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
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
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