International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) has introduced a new version of its Blue Gene supercomputer that is three times faster than the previous model and consumes 20% more energy. The Blue Gene/P can do one million billion calculations per second and is about 100,000 times more powerful than a home computer, Armonk, New York-based IBM has said in an emailed statement.
Supercomputers break down complex tasks, such as mapping seismic activity or designing materials into small calculations that are processed simultaneously. IBM, the world’s biggest computer services company, has built almost half of the 500 fastest supercomputers, and its previous Blue Gene/L computer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is the fastest, according to a list compiled by scientists. “There’s a computational arms race going on,” said David Turek, a vice-president of IBM’s deep computing group. “This technology is a signpost for what the computing future is all about.”
A US energy department laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, will install the first Blue Gene/P later this year, said Suraiya Farukhi, a spokeswoman. IBM said it also has orders from research organizations, including the Max Planck Society in Munich, the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, and Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.
The supercomputer consists of 6ft tall racks of servers and can be expanded. IBM already has one running at its factory in Rochester, Minnesota.
IBM built 236 of the top 500 fastest supercomputers, according to a ranking compiled by Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim in Germany, Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
On the anvil
Meanwhile, two Silicon Valley hardware companies, Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) and Sun Microsystems Inc., have unveiled their own supercomputers in Germany. SGI’s $350,000 (Rs1.44 crore) Altix ICE looks like a refrigerator. In fact, its features include a water-cooling system, akin to a car radiator, designed to keep its 1,000 pounds of electronic components from overheating. Several of the units can be combined for greater processing power. The Altix will run on up to 512 Intel Xeon processors. SGI is positioning the Altix as a workhorse that will run with a minimum fuss rather than as a breakthrough machine designed to set supercomputer records. Other selling points include its relatively small size and low electricity consumption, both increasingly important issues in crowded data centres.
Sun’s Constellation will consist of dozens of blinking cabinets containing a total of 3,456 motherboards all wired together through two central units that will coordinate the processing activity of the entire colossus.
Those two central cabinets will function as switches, controlling the thousands upon thousands of constituent elements that will give the Constellation its computing ability.