Closing In On Petaflops

By Michael Feldman

June 23, 2006

The HPC community has been reaching towards systems capable of petaflops performance ever since the teraflops barrier was conquered back in December of 1996. Today systems that will execute a quadrillion floating point operations per second are close to becoming a reality. In fact, one such system may already exist. While HPC people-in-the-know realize that it's just a number, the petaflops metric does seem to capture the imagination of the public whenever it's mentioned in the media. So I'm mentioning it.

And I'm not the only one. Just this last week, EETimes reported that Riken, a Japanese government-funded science and technology research organization, has a developed a supercomputer that achieves a theoretical peak performance of one petaflops. The system, called MDGrape-3, was apparently designed as a dedicated computing system to run molecular dynamics simulations. The details of the hardware are a little sketchy, but basically it looks like a very large cluster of Intel Xeon based-servers with some additional proprietary MDGrape-3 processors thrown into the mix.

Peter Ungaro, CEO of Cray, told me that has some familiarity with the MDGrape technology and he believes the Riken claim is probably true (although the Japanese team at Riken admit that they haven't run Linpack on the system so no direct comparison with other benchmarked machines can be made). Ungaro also reminded me that the Japanese machine was specifically built to run one type of application, so it really shouldn't be compared with more general-purpose supercomputers.

Like, for instance, Cray machines. The Seattle supercomputer company made its own peta-splash late last week, when it announced that it will deliver a petaflops-speed computer to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in late 2008. In a conversation I had with Jan Silverman, Cray's senior VP of Corporate Strategy and Business Development, he described the significance of the ORNL machine and how it will fit into the company's future product line. And although we talked about the peak petaflops milestone, that particular attribute of the system seemed much less important than what the new machine represents to both Cray and ORNL. Read the article in this week's issue for the complete story.

And Cray is not the only one playing in the deep end of the pool this summer. IBM and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) claimed a new world record for a scientific application by achieving a sustained performance of 207.3 teraflops. IBM and NNSA have managed to scale the “Qbox” code so that it can take better advantage of the 131,072 PowerPC processors in the Blue Gene/L system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Qbox is an application used to conduct materials science simulations critical to national security.

“This is an important step on the path to performing predictive simulations of nuclear weapons, and these simulations are vital to ensuring the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons stockpile.” said Dimitri Kusnezov, head of NNSA's ASC Program. For more about the ASC program, read our own interview with Kusnezov in this week's issue.

The IBM Blue Gene/L record of 207.3 sustained teraflops record is only a fifth of the way to a sustained petaflops. But this is the metric that really matters — sustained performance on real live applications. Achieving this level of capability will require a more advanced hardware/software model than that required for peak performance alone.

Our own High-End Crusader(HEC) tackles this issue himself in this week's feature article, “Heterogeneous Processing Needs Software Revolutions.” It's a long read, but I encourage anyone interested in the future of HPC system software to take a look. HEC argues that a much more sophisticated approach to thread migration will be required for our next-generation heterogeneous supercomputers. Be forewarned — HEC is not pulling his punches with this one. Here's just a slice of what's inside:

“Perhaps the U.S. has such expertise in principle, but it clearly has not yet worked the issues of developing system software to manage, operate, and exploit next-generation heterogeneous systems. More generally, in the area of heterogeneous processing for high-end computing, there is a total absence of leadership—from vendors, from academia, from government. Whether we consider heterogeneous system architectures, hardware technology, language processing, etc., etc., there are no private-sector computer architects or government agencies who either can, or are willing to, assume a leadership role; there are no compelling visions of heterogeneous processing from which to choose. We are lacking even a simple roadmap for heterogeneous processing.”

Conference News

Last week's first annual TeraGrid Conference in Indianapolis offered up some great presentations from individuals who are interested in building and using cyberinfrastructure. Check out our special section of the TeraGrid 2006 Conference in this week's issue, right beneath our Features section. You'll find additional coverage of the event in this Monday's issue of GRIDtoday. And for even more information about the conference, visit, where you can download the individual presentations.

It seems like as soon as one HPC conference ends, another one begins. Next week, on June 27-30, the 21st Annual International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) is taking place in Dresden, Germany. ISC is the premier supercomputing conference in Europe and provides an international forum for the global HPC community. This year, we'll be providing special coverage of the event featuring interviews, articles, news and commentary. Visit our live coverage at starting on June 28.


As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at [email protected].

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Career Notes: July 2020 Edition

July 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

Supercomputers Enable Radical, Promising New COVID-19 Drug Development Approach

July 1, 2020

Around the world, innumerable supercomputers are sifting through billions of molecules in a desperate search for a viable therapeutic to treat COVID-19. Those molecules are pulled from enormous databases of known compoun Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC-Powered Simulations Reveal a Looming Climatic Threat to Vital Monsoon Seasons

June 30, 2020

As June draws to a close, eyes are turning to the latter half of the year – and with it, the monsoon and hurricane seasons that can prove vital or devastating for many of the world’s coastal communities. Now, climate Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This year is no different though the conversion of ISC to a digital Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

What’s New in HPC Research: Mosquitoes, [email protected], the Last Journey & More

June 29, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hoefler’s Whirlwind ISC20 Virtual Tour of ML Trends in 9 Slides

June 23, 2020

The ISC20 experience this year via livestreaming and pre-recordings is interesting and perhaps a bit odd. That said presenters’ efforts to condense their comments makes for economic use of your time. Torsten Hoefler’s whirlwind 12-minute tour of ML is a great example. Hoefler, leader of the planned ISC20 Machine Learning... Read more…

By John Russell

At ISC, the Fight Against COVID-19 Took the Stage – and Yes, Fugaku Was There

June 23, 2020

With over nine million infected and nearly half a million dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This