Video: IBM promises to break petaflop barrier with Roadrunner

AMD Opteron and Cell chips should let supercomputer be first to surpass the barrier

IBM is assembling what technicians there say will be the first supercomputer to break the petaflop barrier.

The machine -- the third generation of the Roadrunner supercomputer -- is being built for Los Alamos National Laboratory, a national security research facility in New Mexico. The first version of Roadrunner, which is already being used at Los Alamos, runs the Linux operating system on AMD Opteron-based IBM System x3755 servers.

Don Grice, chief engineer for the Roadrunner project at IBM, explained to Computerworld that the latest system, which is nearly completed, will get a power boost from Cell chips. The Cell chip, originally created for the Sony PlayStation video game system, is specifically designed to handle intense calculations, making it a good addition to a supercomputer that is processing massive amounts of research data.

The hybrid machine will run both Opteron processors and the Cell chips, which should enable it to break the much-touted petaflop barrier, Grice said. A petaflop is 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

Grice said IBM will run the first performance tests on the system later this month.

The system, now housed at an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., will be disassembled and rebuilt at Los Alamos this summer.

Here, Grice talks about how significant it is to break the barrier, what that will mean for research, and the size and scope of the supercomputer.

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Interview with Don Grice

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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