Blue Gene/L tops own supercomputing record

Machine doubles its performance by doubling its size. Put another 135.5 trillion notches in the handle, for the number of calcs per second.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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2 min read
IBM's Blue Gene/L supercomputer has doubled its own performance record by doubling in size; the machine has now performed 135.5 trillion calculations per second, the Department of Energy said Wednesday.

The system, which is in the process of being installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, already topped a list of the 500 fastest supercomputers last November with a sustained performance of 70.7 trillion calculations.

The latest performance increase was achieved by doubling the number of racks in the system to 32. If the design continues on this path, the final machine with 64 racks will perform at about 270 teraflops later this year.

Each rack contains 1,024 processors. Each processor, a special variant of IBM's Power family, has dual-processing engines called cores. For running the basic performance test used to rank the top 500 computers (a test known as Linpack), each core can perform calculation work, but in many tasks one of the cores will be devoted to communications.

Blue Gene began in 2000 as a research project to build a system that could perform 1 quadrillion calculations per second--a petaflop--but IBM is trying to make a business out of the machine. It's begun selling the Blue Gene/L machines for about $2 million per rack and is renting out access to one of its own machines.

Blue Gene/L is one of several products stemming from IBM's focus on high-performance technical computing. The company is trying to secure the top spot in the market from Hewlett-Packard and keep its machines ahead of high-end rivals including Silicon Graphics and NEC.

IBM has said the full system will be installed by May, and Livermore Lab spokesman Don Johnston said it should be up and running in July.

Livermore's Blue Gene/L initially was expected to be used for nonclassified work, but its mission expanded to include weapons research as the lab realized it could be useful there too, Johnston said.

The computer has been used to simulate the interactions of 16 million atoms in a sample of tantalum that's solidifying under pressure, but Blue Gene/L isn't suited for all supercomputing tasks.

DOE purchased Blue Gene/L as part of a $290 million deal that also included a system now called ASC Purple. Purple uses fewer, more-powerful processors with more memory, a design that makes it better suited to its primary purpose: complex simulations of nuclear weapons physics.

ASC Purple is based on p5-575 servers. IBM will start delivering ASC Purple to the Livermore lab in April, and it should be complete in July or August, Johnston said.