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Supercomputing Businesses IBM Red Hat Software The Military Hardware

Cell-based "Roadrunner" Tops Elusive Petaflop Mark 269

Posted by timothy
from the beep-beep dept.
prunedude writes "The NY times is reporting that an American military supercomputer, assembled from components originally designed for video game machines, is more than twice as fast as the previous fastest supercomputer, the I.B.M. BlueGene/L. To put the performance of the machine in perspective, Thomas P. D'Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day."
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Cell-based "Roadrunner" Tops Elusive Petaflop Mark

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  • by HolyCoitus (658601) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:05PM (#23704101)
    1350 IBM Linux cluster team. xCAT for pwning.
  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:06PM (#23704109) Homepage
    By can it run Crysis?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Why would anyone want to?

      Crysis is a miserably boring game.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by beav007 (746004)
      Can it even run Vista Ultimate?
      • by nawcom (941663) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:50PM (#23704519) Homepage
        Hah you think the military is dumb enough to even install Vista? Haven't you ever heard of military intelli... errm.. nevermind. Yeah, I'm sure they have it installed already.
      • by Hojima (1228978) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @11:30PM (#23705229)
        Windows: End Program - Untitled - Nuclear Defense. This program is not responding. To return to Windows and check the status of the program, click Cancel. If you choose to end the program immediately, you will loose any unprotected civilians. To end the program now, click End Now. Army personnel: Sir, I think we should send an error report.
    • by pha7boy (1242512) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:19AM (#23705513)

      military supercomputer, assembled from components originally designed for video game machines
      yes. yes it can. and, most likely, it will also blend.
  • by anaesthetica (596507) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:09PM (#23704129) Homepage Journal
    Military taking the lead on computing as usual. Why is the military so much more progressive (with practical results) than any other institution of government?

    It will be used principally to solve classified military problems to ensure that the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons will continue to work correctly as they age. The Roadrunner will simulate the behavior of the weapons in the first fraction of a second during an explosion. Before it is placed in a classified environment, it will also be used to explore scientific problems like climate change.
    So, it also has Cell-based processors AND Opterons. I wonder what the functional division between the two chip types is?

    "If Chevy wins the Daytona 500, they try to convince you the Chevy Malibu you're driving will benefit from this," said Steve Wallach, a supercomputer designer who is chief scientist of Convey Computer, a start-up firm based in Richardson, Tex. Those who work with weapons might not have much to offer the video gamers of the world, he suggested.

    Who cares? It's awesome sui generis.

    • by Renraku (518261) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:20PM (#23704233) Homepage
      The military is more progressive because there's not a whole lot they can do to advance things.

      They can hope for random breakthroughs, mostly based on chance/luck/etc..

      Or they can follow the natural progression of things. If you want to make things explode you have to know the nature of the explosion. And to know the nature of explosions you have to know all about high-energy physics at a molecular level. And to know about high-energy physics you have to know about how molecules and atoms interact. Now, with all of these things you can either make them yourself and study the real explosion, or you can simulate it and confirm with real-world results..which is what they're doing.

      They have the resources AND the desire to do so, and therefore, they are doing so. Private industries will rarely do things like this on their own. They're much more likely to wait for someone else to do the research, or research with grants and then patent the results for their own profit. Its the same reason NASA has spurred many developments and improvements in the rest of the civilian world.

      This setup will make it easier to study weather, physics, etc, etc. On the other hand, it'll also make it easier to figure out how to make bigger sticks that are lighter and sharper.
    • Military taking the lead on computing as usual. Why is the military so much more progressive (with practical results) than any other institution of government?
      I wouldn't say "as usual." The prior computer at the top for more than 2 years was at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.
      • by students (763488)
        Livermore uses their Blue Genie/L for mostly the same thing. They are responsible for the country's nuclear technology. The upcoming Blue Genie/P will also do weapons simulations, among other things.
    • by DogDude (805747) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:26PM (#23704309) Homepage
      Military taking the lead on computing as usual. Why is the military so much more progressive (with practical results) than any other institution of government?

      Are you kidding? [warresisters.org]
      • by anaesthetica (596507) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:36PM (#23704407) Homepage Journal

        Are you kidding?

        Not really. The post you link to describes the defense budget as it dwarfs other spending, but doesn't really argue why or why not that spending is progressive/regressive.

        The military was one of the first racially integrated public institutions in the U.S., it researched and funded the Internet, it's pouring money into synthetic fuels right now, and it's pushing the limits of computing power as seen in this article. There are numerous other scientific and social areas in which the military advances society, with far more practical results than do-gooders in other government or public institutions.

        • by blahplusplus (757119) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:59PM (#23704589)
          "There are numerous other scientific and social areas in which the military advances society, with far more practical results than do-gooders in other government or public institutions."

          It's because the military doesn't have the scrutiny and oversight other institutions do, lets face it. Do public institutions besides the miilitary get secret prison's and liscense to do whatever the want? The military is not held back by moral qualms. We've seen this with all sorts of classified documents coming out of the government. The military has budgets that are kept secret. For anyone to claim the 'military helps us' vs public institutions, we'd have to do an analysis. But that would be fairly difficult and politically sensitive, now wouldn't it?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by anaesthetica (596507)

            ...secret prison's [sic]...not held back by moral qualms...

            Are you really arguing that the scientific and social advances from the military arise from secret prisons and lack of moral qualms?

            • by blahplusplus (757119) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:34PM (#23704857)
              My point is they do not have the same barriers other institutions do: i.e. the gaps funding and scrutiny. My point about mentioning secret prisons was merely an example of the previous point.
    • Why is the military so much more progressive (with practical results) than any other institution of government?
      Military is the expression of the power of a nation as a whole... the means by which nations, using their national resources, keep ahead of the pack. The rest of the government is bloated bureaucracy designed to keep that powerful military in check and keep society functioning.
      • You sound like a lot of the scary fin de siècle German political theorists that I have to read for my poli-sci Ph.D. studies. Calm down--we all know how that story ended.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      So, it also has Cell-based processors AND Opterons. I wonder what the functional division between the two chip types is?

      Each node has two Opterons and 4 PowerXCell 8 processors (an upgrade to the PS3's Cell processor). This allows a developer writing code for the platform to run in a number of different modes: all Opteron, all Cell, or something in between. The first of these (all Opteron) may constitute a significant amount of the early work on the machine by practitioners, as they can simply compile legac

    • They are more progressive because lives are at stake in an immediate fashion. Who wants to be the guy that says "yea we could have built a supercomputer to test nuclear mishandling, but we decided it would take too long and be too expensive.. oh, yea sorry about turning the Dallas metroplex into a cherry red ember."
  • Who didn't see this coming from Cell?
    • Re:The future (Score:5, Informative)

      by Thalin (130318) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:09PM (#23704665) Homepage
      This is actually based on Cell 2 or as IBM marketing likes to say it "Cell eXtreme"!

      Cell 1 (the Playstation chip) didn't have the double precision floating performance to achieve the petaflop mark; Cell 2 is far better on that front.
  • "if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day."

    This contraption makes lots of people really, really, tired of punching on calculators?
  • Change in paradigm (Score:5, Informative)

    by karvind (833059) <karvind&gmail,com> on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:23PM (#23704265) Journal
    If one looks at http://www.top500.org/ [top500.org] list and compare the CPU frequencies of the top supercomputers - all BlueGene CPUs were running at less than a GHz. And it seemed those low power cores were key to HPC (high performance computing). Cell and opteron - both run at multiple GHz and (presumably consume more power). IBM still has next generation of BlueGene/Q in works and is also for +Petaflop computation.
    • The Bluegene/L uses a PowerPC 440 chip. However these chips don't include an FPU in the core, unless IBM made special ones with an FPU or they're using a separate FPU chip on the processor boards. I think it's interesting their Linpack score/processor is on par with the #3 spot consisting of quad-core Xeons.
      • wikipedia (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Each Compute or I/O node is a single ASIC with associated DRAM memory chips. The ASIC integrates two 700 MHz PowerPC 440 embedded processors, each with a double-pipeline-double-precision Floating Point Unit (FPU), a cache sub-system with built-in DRAM controller and the logic to support multiple communication sub-systems. The dual FPUs give each BlueGene/L node a theoretical peak performance of 5.6 GFLOPS (gigaFLOPS). Node CPUs are not cache coherent with one another.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      all BlueGene CPUs were running at less than a GHz. And it seemed those low power cores were key to HPC (high performance computing).

      Supercomputing is on its way to a water cooled infrastrucure.
      IBM is already selling a product under the name bluefire
      http://www.eetimes.com/news/latest/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=207100873 [eetimes.com]
      http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Infrastructure/IBM-Ships-First-WaterCooled-Supercomputer/ [eweek.com]

      I hope we see more water & less air in the future

  • by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:23PM (#23704271) Journal
    ...There's no catapult in the world that will catch THAT roadrunner!
  • by WheresMyDingo (659258) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:26PM (#23704305)
    the roadrunner always wins, so it no surprise it topped this "petaflop mark" guy (yeesh, what a name).

    and roadrunner's always been cel-based, at least in the modern era. i bought one of those cels from the warner bros. store before they went under, nice one too with his tongue sticking out

  • by Bob54321 (911744) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:30PM (#23704343)

    To put the performance of the machine in perspective, Thomas P. D'Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day."
    That really put it in perspective for me. I normally judge a supercomputer by how many "all Earth people hand calculation years" it can do in a day...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Digestromath (1190577)
      Normally I would compare computers by floating operations per second. However sicne I guess we are going back to the old style of comparing it to people doing calculations by hand. What about all the people on earth using abaci 24/7? Or by leagues per bushel over cubits squared?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Thalin (130318)
      At IBM we like to measure things in "Libraries of Congress per second", or perhaps "747s of phonebooks per second". ;)
    • by Arathon (1002016)
      What I need to know, is how many candlepower is its HDD access light, and how many horsepower would it take to drive this thing from Tokyo to Timbuktu?
  • ummm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WheresMyDingo (659258) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:33PM (#23704375)
    if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day

    probably because most of those people would either try to eat the calculator or sell it for food and medicine

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:35PM (#23704391)
    The kids these days are lazy, back in my day if we wanted to know if a nuke worked we'd take it out back test it!
    Whatever happened to nuked marsh mellows or sitting round with Geiger counters trying to make funny sounds?
    Kids are lazy these days!
  • Not in perspective (Score:4, Insightful)

    by justinlee37 (993373) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:38PM (#23704425)

    To put the performance of the machine in perspective, Thomas P. D'Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day.

    That does not put the performance of the machine in perspective at all. Technical details would be much more accurate and effective.

    • by mykepredko (40154) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:09PM (#23704663) Homepage
      This is a perfect example of a propellor head trying to come up with an analogy for a media/marketing type. I suspect that this was the only one that the powers that be felt non-techies could relate to. I've been asked to come up with these analogies a couple of times and it can be pretty frustrating on both sides.

      I suspect the first example of this happening was trying to estimate how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

      Other meaningless analogies could be:
      • How long it would take Roadrunner to count all the atoms in the universe
      • What speed your car would run at if the speed difference between Roadrunner and your home computer was multiplied by 60 mph
      • If we could go this many times faster than the speed of light, how fast could we cross the universe
      • If in every instruction it could take in one byte of text, how long it would take to read the Library of Congress
      • How fast it could render "The Incredibles" compared to how long it took the original server farm (actually, this might be one that's understandable)
      • How fast it could break the 128 bit encryption used when you log onto your bank's web page to pay your bills (this might also be understandable and would probably be a bit scary)

      The simple fact is that a petaflop computer works faster than humans can conceive and any kind of analogy cannot be comprehended.

      myke
      • by jareds (100340) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:27PM (#23704801)

        How fast it could break the 128 bit encryption used when you log onto your bank's web page to pay your bills (this might also be understandable and would probably be a bit scary)

        No, not at all scary. It's apparently twice is fast as the BlueGene/L, which apparently set a record of 478.2 teraFLOPS. Let's assume it takes 1 floating-point operation to test a single key, which is a gross underestimate. We'll thus assume the Roadrunner can test 10^15 keys per second. Testing 2^128 keys would then take about 10^16 years.

        • by mykepredko (40154)
          Thanx - I should have done the back of envelope like you've done here before coming up with that particular analogy.

          myke
      • by jthill (303417)
        The analogy I've liked best is distance: in this case, in the time it takes ars's God Box to get to the supermarket, this puppy has been around the world a few times.
  • I missed all of the general-audience talks which have been given at LANL so far about Roadrunner, but this makes me want to try a bit harder at making it to some of them:

    http://www.lanl.gov/news/index.php/fuseaction/1663.article/d/200805/id/13277 [lanl.gov]
  • by jimhill (7277) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @09:45PM (#23704485) Homepage
    As a software developer who's worked on the Lab's previous ASC machines (Blue Mountain, Q, Lightning) I can say that once the calculation is run to get a machine atop Jack Dongarra's gee-golly list, it's partitioned, segmented, divided, and subjected to such crappy resource management that if I could trade the entire machine for a pair of coupled 8-core Mac Pros I'd do it in a heartbeat.

    The real PITA with these machines is that the powers that be are trying to kill two birds with one stone: they want an R&D platform for advanced computing, but they also want to certify an aging and untestable nuclear stockpile. That rather requires a fairly static platform, and so far our experience with ASC has been that when a machine hits that sweet state, they yank it and give us the next one.
  • Thomas P. D'Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week...
    I think this analogy may reveal a little more than intended about government's vision for humanity.

    "Let my people goto!"
    • You're right. The Bush Administration has had plans from before 9/11 to pour vast sums of money into actuarial and accounting schools through a secret CIA slush fund operating in various former Eastern bloc countries.
  • by suck_burners_rice (1258684) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:02PM (#23704609)
    The answer is 42. The question is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • by PseudoThink (576121) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:11PM (#23704677)
    if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day

    I'm glad to see the continuing trend of creatively "dumbing down" units of measure (in this case, flops) to the point where they are not only practically useless, but entirely divorced from reality. I would like to propose the following similar, hype-worthy measure for fuel economy:

    Old: Miles per gallon
    New: Number of miles from which one would smell the excrement from the number of cattle one could feed for a day with the amount of corn it would take to produce one gallon.
    • by ozbird (127571)
      I'm glad to see the continuing trend of creatively "dumbing down" units of measure (in this case, flops) to the point where they are not only practically useless, but entirely divorced from reality.

      Yes - are they regular (infix) or Reverse Polish (postfix) notation calculators? Dumbed-down minds need to know!
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:19PM (#23704733) Homepage Journal
    As I posted the last time this story was reported (in IBM Touts Supercomputers for Enterprise [slashdot.org]") in "Yes, It Does Run Linux" [slashdot.org]:

    From IBM's detailed press release [ibm.com]:

    the QS22 boasts an open environment, utilizing the flexibility of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the primary operating system and the open development environment of Eclipse.


    That means that a PS3 running Linux [psubuntu.com], even with its ridiculously low 512MB RAM, can be used as a $500 development platform for these CellBE BladeServers.

    And, in turn, some QS22 SW might be usable on the PS3, if it can be ported to use the tiny RAM. Or if someone hooks an i-RAM bank to the SATA port as swap/ramdisk, using perhaps iSCSI over its Gb-e for storage.


    Now get out there and supercompute!
  • Old News (Score:3, Informative)

    by MBHkewl (807459) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @10:20PM (#23704741)

    This was covered last year, and the Los Alamos website [lanl.gov] had a few interviews with some people involved on what the uses of Roadrunner are. They had a time-line of what phases are to be done, and as far as memory serves me, they were going with Opterons for the first phase, then performance assessment, then add the Cell processors in the third phase.

    From these pictures [lanl.gov], it clearly shows they're using IBM Blades (4 chassis in each rack), and IBM already offers BladeQ [ibm.com] servers which use Cell processors for HPC applications. The IBM BladeQ servers pack double the CPUs of a PS3.

    If you take a look at the Folding@Home project statistics [stanford.edu], you can see the performance of PS3 boxes, and almost relate...
  • The article mentions that it will be used to explore climate change. At 3MW, perhaps it is likely to cause climate change!

  • It is highly doubtful that the "zettaflop", a million times this petaflop, will be achieved by "conventional" circuitry. That will take optical or some other kind of computing (probably not quantum). The yottaflop will likely be quantum or molecular-state computing, or something unexpected.
  • NOT MILITARY! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Sunday June 08, 2008 @11:11PM (#23705099) Journal
    It's the department of energy, not the military. Specifically, it is at Los Alamos, which is not a military base.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by mrbluze (1034940)

      It's the department of energy, not the military. Specifically, it is at Los Alamos, which is not a military base.
      What, you mean hundreds of moderator points were wasted on above military-related posts? Woohoo!! Bingo baby!
  • My first thought when I saw the article title was a cellphone based networked super computer. Something along the lines of Rainbow's End [amazon.com] or Halting State [amazon.com].

    I wonder how many iphones would be needed to do a cellphone petaflop computer.

  • Human Brain (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kifoth (980005) on Monday June 09, 2008 @05:15AM (#23706997)
    A quick Google search: http://www.google.com/search?q=human+brain+petaflop [google.com], suggests that we're probably in spitting distance of at least matching the processing power of a human brain.

    Not sure about the software though...

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