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IBM's Roadrunner sets new supercomputer record

A hybrid supercomputer built by IBM for the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration more than doubles the speed of Blue Gene, previously the world's fastest. And it does so with the aid of the processor used in the Sony PlayStation 3.

The hybrid tag refers to the way Roadrunner was designed to exploit the strengths of the Cell Broadband Engine as well as conventional x86 chips from AMD. This is said to be a first in supercomputer design.

Roadrunner features 12,960 Cell chips along with 6948 dual-core Opteron CPUs. Assembled from off-the-shelf IBM blade servers, the system is housed in 288 "refrigerator sized" racks.

The blades are configured in groups of three, comprising a pair of Cell blades with one Opteron blade. The Cell chips handle the mathematical and other CPU-intensive operations, while the Opterons take care of I/O and other less arduous tasks. With 400 gigaflops (400 billion floating-point operations per second) per tri-blade, the whole system is rated at overone petaflop (one million billion calculations per second).

IBM puts the processing capability into perspective by comparing it with 100,000 of today's fastest laptops, or around 1000 of what was the world's fastest supercomputer in 1998.

Not only is Roadrunner the world's fastest supercomputer, it is also one of the most energy efficient. Performing 376 million calculations per watt, IBM officials expect it to be one of the leaders in the next Green 500 list.

What about the software? Please read on for the open source connection.


Talking of I/O, as we were, a total of 57 miles (92 kilometres) of fibre optic cable was needed for the Infiniband and Gigabit Ethernet connections.

The system was assembled at IBM's plant in Poughkeepsie, New York, and will be delivered to Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico later this northern summer aboard 21 trucks. It "will primarily be used to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile" - simulation is more practical than real-life testing when you're dealing with that sort of thing.

As for the software, chalk up another one to the open source community: Roadrunner uses Red Hat Linux.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

 

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