IBM: Supercomputing becoming interactive

Supercomputing is on the verge of a new era of interactivity, and an IBM thinker forecasts that the change will have wide repercussions among those accustomed to submitting processing jobs and returning days or even months later for results.

"A petroleum engineer might accelerate the discovery process by quickly trying different kinds of analysis and visualization to pinpoint a potential oil field. Automotive engineers could continuously refine their designs to achieve a balance of aesthetics, safety and economics, much the way we keep formatting and reformatting documents until satisfied with the result," said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who has led efforts at IBM to retool for e-commerce, Linux and other significant transformations, in his blog.

The change is significant because it puts supercomputing into a realm of technology that is better adapted to how humans think and tackle problems, he said.

"This goes to the essence of how humans prefer to deal with the world and solve problems. We do something, get a response, and then adjust and build on that response. It feels natural to break a problem into a series of steps and keep adjusting to the feedback, whether it is driving a car, talking to a person or interacting with a computer application," he said.

Technology is of course at the root of the change. "Continuous improvements in microprocessors, storage and other technologies are a major factor in this transition. Equally important are the advanced architectures that permit supercomputers to be built from the inexpensive components of the PC and consumer electronics worlds, so that the considerable computing capacity generally required to support interactive applications can be delivered at affordable prices," Wladawsky-Berger said, unsurprisingly pointing to Blue Gene and other IBM products to illustrate his point.

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