Ratcheting up the “Flops”, the US regains Supercomputing Leadership. Keep the Innovation Flame on!

Published by: Srini Chari

This week’s big supercomputing story – It’s Red, White and Blue and … Green too!
This past Monday (June/17), as I was sitting outside; reading and enjoying the nice sunny weather on the East Coast, I received an email alert that delighted me and put me on a joyous reflective state. At ISC 2012, the Top500 list of supercomputers worldwide firmly established that, after a span of almost three years, the United States has regained that envious and prestigious floating point performance leadership position in supercomputing or High Performance Computing (#HPC) – wresting this away from other world-class manufacturers.

Blue is Green Too!

The fastest supercomputer in the world is the IBM BlueGene/Q (Sequoia), installed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and achieved an impressive 16.32 petaflops/s on the Linpack benchmark using 1,572,864 cores. The BlueGene/Q is also the top system in the Graph500 list, which ranks supercomputers by a data intensive benchmark that mirrors workloads common in graph applications including social networks, cyber security, and medical informatics. And the BlueGene/Q is also the Greenest supercomputer according to the Green500 list that ranks supercomputers by energy-efficiency benchmarks! Moreover, the fastest supercomputer in Europe is the SuperMUC, an IBM iDataplex system installed at the Leibniz-Rechenzentrum in Germany and cooled by warm water.

You can get more details from the Top500, the Green500, and the Graph500 lists of supercomputers. But if you want to truly get a detailed (the what, how and why) perspective on the innovations that underpin these spectacular results, please read our recent papers on the BlueGene/Q and the iDataPlex:

  1. IBM Blue Gene/Q: The Most Energy Efficient Green Solution for High Performance Computing
  2. Beyond PetaFlops: Scalable, Energy Efficient IBM System x iDataPlex dx360 M4 powered by Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 Product Family
  3. The IBM System x iDataPlex dx360 M4: Superior Energy Efficiency and Total Cost of Ownership for Petascale Technical Computing

The Eternal Flame of Innovation

This is a great testament to US innovation in the computer industry. Going forward, one fundamental question/challenge in supercomputer design is; how can we keep heat away and cool these systems to run reliably and efficient as we scale up performance? For this, innovations in cooling technologies, low-power processors, and the rest of the technologies must all come together to build that gigantic jigsaw puzzle – the exascale system! The center of gravity of this pursuit, while historically firmly entrenched in the US since the dawn of the information age, seems to be lately seesawing between the US and Asia. Today, it is in the US. One question is how can the US reinforce and sustain this edge and arrest this seesawing jigsaw?

However, a bigger question is how can the US keep the flame and heat on the escalating tussle for an edge in innovation and on the seesawing race for leadership in today’s global knowledge economy? Today (June/21/2012) this heat is literally on. It is not only the longest day in the northern hemisphere but it is also the hottest day here in Connecticut! The sprint towards exascale is just one proxy for this larger battle.

To win, we must flex our neurons. For this we need relentless focus and continuing investment in education – particularly in math, science, and language. Our teachers are our personal trainers and the classroom is the gym. But beyond, traditional classroom education, we must experiment, constantly learn on the job and not be afraid to make and learn from Brilliant Mistakes. Moving on and learning from these Brilliant Flops (a.k.a. Mistakes) is of greater benefit to innovation than merely ratcheting up the supercomputing Flops! May the Olympic Torch of Innovation continue to shine on the United States!

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