The super supercomputer

IBM has launched Blue Gene/P, the second generation of the world’s fastest computer, which it said almost triples the performance of the Blue Gene/L.

The computer can carry out tasks such as modelling an entire human organ to determine drug interactions, and IBM claimed drug researchers could run simulated clinical trials on 27 million patients in one afternoon using just a small part of the machine’s full power.

The Blue Gene/P is able to operate continuously at speeds exceeding one petaflop, or one quadrillion operations per second, and can be configured to reach speeds of more than three petaflops. It is also said to be 100,000 times more powerful than a home PC and be able to process more operations in one second than the combined power of a stack of laptop computers 2.4km high.

Purpose-built to fit in smaller spaces, IBM said that the supercomputer uses less electricity and is seven times more energy efficient, compared with other commercially available designs.

The supercomputer design uses many small, low-power embedded chips each connected through five networks inside the system. The design is modular, composing of ‘racks’ that can be added as requirements grow.

Four IBM (850 MHz) PowerPC 450 processors are integrated on a single Blue Gene/P chip. Each chip is capable of 13.6 billion operations per second. A 61cm by 61cm board containing 32 of these chips churns out 435 billion operations every second, making it more powerful than a typical, 40-node cluster based on two-core commodity processors.

Thirty-two of the compact boards comprise the 1.8m-high racks, and each rack runs at 13.9 trillion operations per second, 1,300 times faster than today’s fastest home PC.

A standard Blue Gene/P supercomputer configuration will have 4,096 processors per rack. The one-petaflop Blue Gene/P supercomputer would have a 294,912-processor, 72-rack system harnessed to a high-speed, optical network, and it could be scaled up to three petaflops, which would use an 884,736-processor, 216-rack cluster.

The US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois, will deploy the first Blue Gene/P supercomputer in the US later this year.