US Claims Top Supercomputer Ranking


The United States has the world’s fastest supercomputer. It’s official. The last time we had that ranking was in 2009. You can view the whole list here.

IBM manufactures our top machine, known as the Sequoia. It’s part of a generation of IBM Supercomputers known as BlueGene/Q. It lives in the United States Department of Energy – Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. And this machine is fast. Faster than anything most of us could conceive. It has processing speeds of 16.32 petaflops per second. To put that into perspective, that’s about 1.5 million times faster than the average laptop. Some other information I found on the web about these bad boys:

* One petaflop is equal to one quadrillion, or 10 to the 15th power, floating operations ( i.e. mathematical computations).
* The supercomputer is actually a highly interconnected cluster of 1,572,864 processors, or cores, mounted on 98,304 “compute nodes,” or boards, that are arranged on a series of 96 standing racks across 318 square metres of floor space.

That’s some raw power. And all of this is significant because these rankings are put together by a group of computer experts, using a Linpack Benchmark to measure how fast computers execute a particular program.

Supercomputers, in general, aren’t used to browse the web faster or play games (although I’d kill to be able to try), they’re mostly used for research in a variety of fields like astronomy, medicine (working on protein chains, etc.), nuclear science, geophysics, etc. Our Sequoia will be working on nuclear weapons testing. The supercomputer “will provide a more complete understanding of weapons’ performance, notably hydrodynamics and properties of materials at extreme pressures and temperatures,” said Thomas D’Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration in a news release. “Computing platforms like Sequoia help the United States keep its nuclear stockpile safe, secure and effective without the need for underground testing,” he said. “While Sequoia may be the fastest, the underlying computing capabilities it provides give us increased confidence in the nation’s nuclear deterrent as the weapons’ stockpile changes under treaty agreements, a critical part of President Obama’s nuclear security agenda.”
The drawback to these bad boys is that they use soooo much power. For one year, it costs the same amount of energy as it does to operate 10,000 US Households. Definitely not the greenest technology, but hey, neither is nuclear weapons testing, so I guess it’s a trade-off.
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