Battle of the Blues: Whose supercomputer is fastest?

Two supercomputers at Energy Department labs are duking it out for the title of
world’s fastest machine.

IBM Corp. in September delivered two-thirds of an RS/6000 SP supercomputer, called Blue
Pacific, to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The supercomputer, when fully assembled at IBM’s laboratory in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.,
achieved a peak performance of 3.88 trillion floating-point operations per second, said
Dave Turek, IBM’s marketing director for RS/6000 SP. IBM will deliver the final third
of the system in January, he said.

Meanwhile, Silicon Graphics Inc. two years ago installed its 6,144-processor
Origin2000, known as Blue Mountain, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
When linked with a second SGI supercomputer at the lab, the pair has a peak performance of
4.2 teraFLOPS, said Charles S. Rasch, SGI’s government public relations director.

“Our computer has been fully operational for the past eight months at Los
Alamos,” said Rasch, asserting that SGI owned fastest-computer bragging rights
despite a recent White House ceremony in which Vice President Al Gore and Energy Secretary
Bill Richardson lauded Blue Pacific’s unveiling.

Using the sPPM benchmark, a simplified version of the Piecewise Parabolic Method code
that computes a 3-D hydrodynamics problem on a uniform mesh, Blue Pacific achieved its
3.88-teraFLOPS rating. Blue Mountain rated 4.2 teraFLOPS on that benchmark, about 10
percent higher, SGI chief executive officer Richard Belluzzo said.

“Make no mistake, we have the world’s fastest computer,” Belluzzo said.

But is it one computer or two? Energy acknowledged that if it did link its two Los
Alamos SGI machines, the pair would achieve 4.2 teraFLOPS. But department officials said
they have no plans to do so.

“SGI keeps thinking were going to put the two machines together,” said Jim
Danneskiold, Los Alamos spokesman. “We’ve had discussions, but they won’t
be wired together.”

Blue Mountain has a peak performance of 3.1 teraFLOPS. The second SGI machine at Los
Alamos, Nirvana Blue, can achieve 1.1 teraFLOPS, Danneskiold said.

Los Alamos uses Blue Mountain for Energy’s Accelerated Strategic Computer
Initiative (ASCI), which runs simulations to determine whether aging nuclear weapons are
still operable. The lab uses Nirvana Blue for unclassified computing applications,
Danneskiold said.

“The two computers were designed to be combined,” Rasch said. “We
understood that they would be combined.”

IBM downplayed the supercomputing war with SGI. “Energy’s goal is to push the
boundaries of supercomputing,” Brandow said. “We are all working toward the same

Pacific Blue, also used for Energy’s ASCI program, can perform 15,000 times faster
than the typical desktop PC. It has more than 2.6 trillion bytes of memory and could store
the equivalent of all the books in the Library of Congress, Energy officials said.

During tests last month using the Linpack benchmark, the SGI supercomputer ran 1.6
trillion operations per second, SGI officials said. Linpack, a public-domain industry
benchmark, is a collection of Fortran subroutines that solve simultaneous linear equations
to gauge floating-point performance.

IBM has not tested Blue Pacific using Linpack, spokesman Glen Brandow said.  


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