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Linux Computer Smashes Petaflop Supercomputer Barrier


The formal coronation of the world’s fastest supercomputer won’t happen until the ISC (International Supercomputer Conference) in Dresden Germany on June 17th and 20th, but we already know that the IBM supercomputer “RoadRunner” is the first computer to reach the 1 petaflop per second level. It’s operating system: a Red Hat Linux variant.

The RoadRunner, which has been in development for several years, was built by IBM. It’s made up of 6,912 dual-core AMD Opteron processors from 12,960 of IBM’s Cell eDP accelerators. Yes, those Cell processors are the brothers to the ones running in a Sony PlayStation 3. Those processors, not the Opterons, are the ones that actually do the super-supercomputer’s math for it.

RoadRunner has 80 terabytes of memory and is housed in 288 refrigerator-size IBM BladeCenter racks. The RoadRunner currently still lives in its test facility, but it—all 500,000 pounds and 21-semi-tractor trailer load worth of it—will be delivered to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico later this year.

The Roadrunner cracked the petaflop peak performance mark in late May on the Linpack benchmark. This test consisted of solving linear equations involving more than 2 million equations and an equal number of unknowns. A petaflop, by the by, is 1,000 trillion, a quadrillion, calculations per second. Or, to look at it another way, a top-end laptop would be capable of a petaflop every 31.7 years by my off-the-cuff calculations.

In a statement, Prof. Hans Meuer, general chair of ISC and founder of the supercomputer TOP500 list said, “For me, breaking the petaflop/s barrier is the equivalent of a runner finally running the 100-meter race in 9.5 seconds — a level of performance everyone hopes for but proves elusive to actually achieve. This will be the third time at ISC that we will have a presentation about the almost magical surpassing of a thousand-fold increase in HPC performance. Twenty-two years ago, in 1986, the legendary Cray 2 passed the 1 gigaflop/s level, and in June of that year we held the first ISC. Eleven years later, when the Intel ASCI Red system landed atop the ninth TOP500 list presented at the conference, this was the first time a system reached the teraflop/s level. And now RoadRunner has cracked the next magical barrier and will be number one on the 31st edition of the TOP500 list.”

Roadrunner isn’t the only supercomputer showing that Linux rules. In the last TOP500 list from November 2007, Linux runs 85.2 percent of the Top 500 supercomputers.

In the forthcoming list, we already know that Novell’s SUSE Linux, according to Novell, runs on 40 percent of the world’s top 50 supercomputers. These include: the IBM eServer Blue Gene at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, IBM eServer BlueGene/P (JUGENE) at the Juelich Research Center and SGI Altix 8200 at the New Mexico Computing Applications Center.

“At NASA we are working to solve some of science’s most complex challenges, so an operating system that can help us achieve the highest level of computational functionality is very important,” said William Thigpen, Engineering Branch Chief in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division in a statement. “In selecting an operating system, performance and flexibility are two of our top considerations. The right operating system helps us to push the boundaries of computing performance and bring new levels of innovation to our space, science and aeronautics programs.”

For NASA, that right operating system is SUSE Linux. For almost all supercomputer users, it’s Linux.


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