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Roadrunner Supercomputer  (Source: IBM)
Roadrunner supercomputer is first to break petaflop barrier

A new supercomputer in the U.S. has broken a barrier that many thought wouldn’t be broken for years to come. A new supercomputer-- dubbed Roadrunner-- has broken the petaflop barrier.

Roadrunner was designed by engineers and scientists at IBM and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Ultimately, Roadrunner will be placed into a classified environment where it will be used to simulate what effects aging has on the stockpile of nuclear weapons the U.S. has in its arsenal. The problem it will work on is modeling how aging nuclear weapons behave the first fraction of a second during an explosion. Before beginning its nuclear weapons research, Roadrunner will be used to model the effects of global warming.

The Roadrunner supercomputer costs $133 million and is built using chips from both consumer electronics and more common server processors.

Roadrunner has 12,960 chips that are an improved version of the Cell chip used in the PS3. These Cell processors act as a turbocharger for certain portions of the calculations the Roadrunner processes. The computer also uses a smaller, unspecified number of AMD Opteron processors.

A computer researcher from the University of Tennessee, Jack Dongarra told the New York Times, “This [breaking the petaflop barrier] is equivalent to the four-minute mile of supercomputing.”

Horst Simon from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory said, “Roadrunner tells us about what will happen in the next decade. Technology is coming from the consumer electronics market and the innovation is happening first in terms of cell phones and embedded electronics.”

Technology first appearing in the consumer electronics market and then making its way into supercomputing is a stark contrast to a process that commonly works in the exact opposite manner.

In total, Roadrunner has 116,640 processing cores and the real challenge for programmers is figuring out how to keep all of those processing cores in use simultaneously to get the best performance. Roadrunner requires about 3 megawatts of power, or about enough electricity to run a large shopping center.

To put the processing power in perspective, Thomas P. D’Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration said that if all 6 billion people on Earth entered calculations on a calculator for 24 hours a day, seven days per week it would take 46 years to do what Roadrunner can do in one day.

How Roadrunner is cooled is unknown, IBM has recently moved to liquid cooling for its supercomputers, but Roadrunner appears to be air cooled.

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By allajunaki on 6/9/2008 4:45:45 PM , Rating: 2
What will be OS here, any guesses.... ?

By FITCamaro on 6/9/2008 4:58:54 PM , Rating: 2
Not one you'll ever see.

By Relion on 6/9/2008 5:00:39 PM , Rating: 2
If wiki is right, Red Hat Enterprise

By emboss on 6/9/2008 5:29:16 PM , Rating: 3
It's either RHEL or Fedora, it's not exactly clear.

To further the information in the article, each computational node has a two dual-core Opterons and 4 Cells (note that these are custom Cells that do double precision, not single precision like the "generic" Cells). 180 nodes are linked together with a single switch (DDR 4x Infiniband connection to each node).

Potentially, 24 of these blocks are then linked together in a half-bandwidth fat tree topology (only 12 DDR 4x IB links to each second level switch). However, at this point they've only bought 18 blocks, giving the current total of 3240 compute nodes.

By Relion on 6/9/2008 6:01:18 PM , Rating: 2
What emboss said is right according to Los Alamos:

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes
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