World's Most Powerful Computer Doubles in Size

Blue Gene/L, already ranked as the fastest supercomputer on the planet, has been doubled in size, according to researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.

Lawrence Livermore has been running a 32,000-processor system since December, but three weeks ago trucks began delivering the components that allowed it to add another 32,000-processors worth of power to the supercomputer, effectively doubling its processing power.

Though there are still some adjustments being made, the system is now operational, said Robin Goldstone, group leader with the Production Linux Group at Lawrence Livermore. "It's mostly functional. They've actually run calculations on the 32,000 nodes," she said Wednesday. "They're shaking out the last few bad nodes."

Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of Blue Gene/L is how compact it is. When the complete system is assembled into a total of 64 server racks this June, it will be a about half the size of a tennis court, which is much smaller than most of today's supercomputers.

Blue Gene/L will consume less power too. The final system is expected to draw approximately 1.6 megawatts. To put this in perspective, another supercomputer that Lawrence Livermore will be bringing online this June, the 100-teraflop ASCI Purple system, is expected to require 4.8 megawatts.

72 Trillion Calculations Per Second

Blue Gene/L is made up of approximately 32,000 two-processor nodes, giving it about 64,000 processors in total, Goldstone said.

A 33,000-processor prototype of Blue Gene/L, assembled by IBM last November was ranked the fastest computer on the planet on the Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers. IBM's prototype was benchmarked at 70.72 trillion calculations per second, or teraflops, using the Linpack benchmark, which puts the system through a series of mathematical calculations.

Lawrence Livermore's new system is expected to be capable of approximately twice that performance, making it nearly three times as powerful as the next system on the list, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's 10,240-processor Columbia supercomputer. Columbia has been benchmarked at 51.87 teraflops. Goldstone declined to comment on the Livermore system's benchmark performance.

The 32,000-node Blue Gene/L represents the second stage of a three-part build out of the $100 million supercomputer that is expected to be completed by June. When fully assembled at Lawrence Livermore, Blue Gene/L will be a 130,000-processor system with a theoretical peak performance of 360 teraflops, according to IBM.

The difference between ASCI Purple and Blue Gene/L is that ASCI Purple will be made out of general purpose-servers, similar to IBM's eServer p655, whereas Blue Gene/L's compute nodes contain little more than memory and processors.

"We've kind of reached the limit with these commodity clusters," said Goldstone. "They just generate too much heat and too much power."

Going Commercial

IBM is now in the process of commercializing Blue Gene/L and is selling a 5.7-teraflop single-rack version of the system, called the eServer Blue Gene Solution, to high-performance computing customers. The company has also agreed to deliver Blue Gene systems to a number of research institutions, including the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the University of Edinburgh.

This month the computer maker plans to operate a 100-teraflop Blue Gene system at its Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. This system, which IBM claims will be the world's largest privately owned supercomputer, will be used, in part, for life sciences research.

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon