Worlds Fastest Computer

On the dawn of 25 May 2008, IBM unveiled their gentle giant- the ‘roadrunner’. Do not mistake it with the cute little cartoon character that your children enjoy watching on TV, the roadrunner is actually the worlds fastest computer at present, and it is capable of processing 1.7 petaflops. On May 25th, the computer had achieved 1.06 petaflops, making it the worlds fastest computer. This lean and hungry machine is not a child’s toy and it is priced at an eye-popping amount of $133 million.

Built by IBM at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, this is truly a one of its kind supercomputer, primarily because of the fact that this machine is built mostly on commodity parts, available off the shelf at any hardware store. The worlds fastest computer boasts of some great design techniques, which have made it one of the marvels of modern engineering and computer architecture.

Built for the National nuclear security administration department, this computer has 12,960 IBM powerXcell 8i CPUs in conglomeration with 6,480 AMD opteron microprocessor systems. These systems are connected via a new technique of CPU-Processor connection, known as the infiniband, using blade server architecture. Running on Fedora and Red hat enterprise editions, the worlds fastest computer is as easy to work with as any other computing device. Designed to predict the vulnerability and the safety of America’s ageing nuclear weapons, the worlds fastest computer computes the reaction of nuclear components and ingredients as time progresses. The roadrunner is a massive machine, and occupies almost 550 square meters of space.

The main area where the worlds fasts computer differs from a lot of other super computers is the fact that it uses a combination of two architectures wherein each AMD 64 opteron processor is combined in a hybrid architecture with a ‘cell’, manufactured by IBM using its patented ‘power architecture’ technology.

The building process of the roadrunner was divided into three broad phases. The first phase was concerned with the development of a cluster, on a smaller scale, of the AMD 64- Cell combination and to check its feasibility on a larger scale. The second phase was primarily concerned with building a prototype using the clusters developed in the first phase. The third phase was dedicated to reach a peak performance, which was aimed to be measured in petaflops. Additional clusters, architectural enhancements and some additional powerXcell systems were arranged in order to breach the petaflops limit. Thus the worlds fastest computer was born on May 25th, 2008.

Containing two different kinds of processors, one being for calculations and the other for performing normal computer functions (such as bootstrapping, process scheduling and memory management), the worlds fastest computer is an architectural marvel. The two cores of computations in the worlds fastest computer are the AMD opteron and the IBM powerXcell. While the Opteron runs at 1.8 GHz, the PowerXcell runs at 3.2 GHz. The roadrunner utilizes a total of 122,400 cores, with roughly 6,000 coming from the Opteron and the rest coming from the PowerXcell.The computational unit of the roadrunner is the ‘triblade’, which consists of two dual core opterons with 16 GB of RAM and four powerXcells, containing their own additional 16 GB of RAM. The complete CU or the computational unit is the main unit of computation in the roadrunner and consists of 180 such triblades, with each of these triblades connected to a 288 port Voltaire infiband switch. The Panasas file system is implemented through twelve system servers. Each triblade, therefore, has to pass though one of these servers to access the Panasas files system.

The overall structure which emerges out as the complete roadrunner model consists of eighteen CUs, or connected units, which are connected through a second infiniband switch. The whole architecture is a mammoth structure and is testimony to the huge computing potential of the worlds fastest computer, setting it far apart from the rest of the competition.

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