Energy aims to retake supercomputing lead from China

Department's next high-performance system, being built by IBM, expected to surpass the current leader

China currently holds the lead position for the world’s fastest supercomputer, but not for long. The U.S. is working on a new class of computers that will greatly outperform all of the planet’s current supercomputers. These machines themselves will pave the way for even faster computers scheduled to appear by the end of the decade.

Commissioned by the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory, the computer will be able to execute 10 quadrillion calculations per second, or 10 petaflops. Nicknamed Mira, the machine will be built by IBM and based on a version of the upcoming version of the firm’s Blue Gene supercomputer architecture, called Blue Gene/Q, Computerworld reported. The supercomputer will be operational in 2012.

According to Computerworld, the 10-petaflop performance will be vastly higher than today’s most powerful machine, the Tianjin National Supercomputer Center’s Tianhe-1A system, which has a peak performance of 2.67 petaflops.

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The added speed and computing muscle will allow Mira to conduct a variety of modeling and simulation tests that current machines cannot do. In a statement, IBM said the computer could be used in a variety of applications, such as modeling new, highly efficient batteries for electric cars or developing better climate models.

Argonne officials expect that Mira will not only be the fastest computer in the world, but the most energy efficient as well. These efficiencies will be achieved by a combination of new microchip designs and very efficient water cooling. The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), which will house Mira, won an Environmental Sustainability (EStar) award in 2010 for the innovative and energy efficient cooling designed for its current system. Laboratory officials predict that Mira will be even more efficient.

Mira is also a stepping stone in U.S. efforts to develop exascale computers — a class of machines that would be a thousand times faster than the upcoming petascale systems. Computerworld noted that by 2012, Mira will be one of three IBM systems able to operate at 10 petaflops or higher. The company is also developing a 20-petaflop machine called Sequoia for the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Another IBM-built 10 petaflop machine in production is the Blue Waters system for the National Science Foundation-funded National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


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