San Francisco: An American military supercomputer, assembled from components originally designed for video game machines, has reached a longsought-after computing milestone by processing more than 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second.
The new machine is more than twice as fast as the previous fastest supercomputer, the IBM BlueGene/L, which is based at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The new $133 million supercomputer, called Roadrunner in a reference to the state bird of New Mexico, was devised and built by engineers and scientists at IBM and Los Alamos National Laboratory, based in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It will be used to solve classified military problems to ensure that the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons will continue to work correctly as they age. The Roadrunner will simulate the behavior of the weapons in the first fraction of a second during an explosion.
Before it is placed in a classified environment, it will also be used to explore scientific problems like climate change. The greater speed of the Roadrunner will make it possible for scientists to test global climate models with higher accuracy.
To put the performance of the machine in perspective, Thomas D’Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day.
The machine is an unusual blend of chips used in consumer products and advanced parallel computing technologies. The lessons that computer scientists learn by making it calculate even faster are seen as essential to the future of both personal and mobile consumer computing.
The high-performance computing goal, known as a petaflop — one thousand trillion calculations per second — has long been viewed as a crucial milestone by military, technical and scientific organizations in the US, as well as a growing group including Japan, China and the European Union. All view supercomputing technology as a symbol of national economic competitiveness.
NYT NEWS SERVICE