Requiem for Roadrunner

By Nicole Hemsoth

April 1, 2013

Right around this time of year in 2008 the supercomputing world was abuzz with news that the stubborn petaflop barrier had been broken.

At the heart of this breakthrough was the IBM Roadrunner system installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Although it’s hard to imagine that just five years after its record-setting run, Los Alamos announced this weekend that Roadrunner would be retired. Its replacement, the (slightly) swifter, smaller and more efficient sibling, Cielo, gets a chance to dash.

The system was shuttered Sunday with a month-long autopsy of sorts planned before they rip it down, especially on the operating system, memory and data routing fronts. “Even in death, we’re trying to learn from Roadrunner,” noted Gary Girder from the lab’s high performance computing division.

While it might have once enjoyed a top ten ranking on the Green 500, some have suggested that the main reason for the shutdown is due to energy efficiency concerns. Its petaflop performance—which still lands it within the top 30 systems in the world-might still be useful, but it comes at quite a cost.

To put this in perspective, according to the Top 500, Roadrunner gobbles about 2,345 kilowatts to attain 1.042 petaflops where as the super just below it performance-wise on the list, a 1.035 petaflop system, eats just 1,177 kilowatts to get 1.035 petaflops. While the performance benefits of Cielo over Roadrunner really aren’t stellar, if it’s really all in the name of efficiency, this decommissioning isn’t difficult to rationalize.

But what a run it had—the system was initially designed to reach a peak of 1.7 petaflops, although when it finally broke the petascale barrier it benchmarked at 1.026 petaflops. By the time it burst in to petaflop territory, Roadrunner’s Top 500 competition, another IBM machine (Blue/Gene L) performed at only half the speed of the Los Alamos system. It knocked that system, which was based at LLNL, out of the position it had been clinging to since 2004.

The historical performance significance of Roadrunner is certainly what sets it apart, but at the time, Roadrunner was recognized for a few other innovations that struck a new path for later systems at other institutions. But before we detail what made this machine a standout, take a look at this video from Roadrunner’s heyday.

While the video above doesn’t discuss this overtly, the system’s architecture is quite unique. The newsmaking super leveraged a chip that had been developed for the Playstation 3 to boost performance and efficiency. This hybrid architecture comprised a great many of the machine’s 116,640 cores and helped it climb high on the Green 500 list as well.

Specifically, the new “cell” chip technology plugged in 12,960 IBM PowerXCell 8i CPUs that were tied to 6,480 AMD Opteron dual-core processors to wrench performance and efficiency gains. As HPCwire noted back in 2009, “Because of the wide disparity in floating point performance between the PowerXCell 8i processor and the Opteron, the vast majority of Roadrunner’s floating point capability resides with the Cell processors. Each PowerXCell 8i delivers over 100 double precision gigaflops per chip, which means the Opteron only contributes about 3 percent of the FLOPS of the hybrid supercomputer.”

Despite the proven performance of the Cell, it never really caught on in other noteworthy systems. Again, as HPCwire noted, Although the original Cell processor was the basis for the PlayStation3 gaming console and the double-precision-enhanced PowerXCell variant has found a home in HPC blades, neither version is a commodity chip in the same sense as the x86 CPU or general-purpose GPUs. The result is that Cell-based solutions are strewn rather haphazardly across the HPC landscape.”

IBM wasn’t the only vendor star for the Los Alamos super—high performance computing storage company, Panasas, also touted its role in helping the system climb into the petascale arena. The company pointed to how this system required top of the line (for 2004, of course) reliability and scalability and settled on Panasas for the massively parallel I/O needed. LANL was looking for a shared storage architecture where all the compute nodes could hit the divvied-up storage (versus the more common mode then of binding a storage cluster tightly to the compute). The system they installed also had to scale to store up to 10 petabytes and scale with new nodes—part of the reason why they looked beyond implementing a NFS-based system.

The major I/O and performance requirements went beyond its initial intent to power some mission-critical work for the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration. The range of applications was quite broad, including HIV modeling.

And surely, the machine went on to work toward specific energy, nuclear and medical modeling applications, yielding new dividends for science, industry and security—and a new way forward for thinking about hyper-efficient, high performance systems.

Related Articles

DOE Commissions Extreme Computing Study

HP, Intel Score Petaflop Supercomputer at DOE Lab

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!

ESnet Now Moving More Than 1 Petabyte/wk

December 12, 2017

Optimizing ESnet (Energy Sciences Network), the world's fastest network for science, is an ongoing process. Recently a two-year collaboration by ESnet users – the Petascale DTN Project – achieved its ambitious goal t Read more…

HPC-as-a-Service Finds Toehold in Iceland

December 11, 2017

While high-demand workloads (e.g., bitcoin mining) can overheat data center cooling capabilities, at least one data center infrastructure provider has announced an HPC-as-a-service offering that features 100 percent fre Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be carefully woven together by people to create the computational c Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Explore the Origins of Space with COSMOS and Memory-Driven Computing

From the formation of black holes to the origins of space, data is the key to unlocking the secrets of the early universe. Read more…

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit and Sierra. The new AC922 server pairs two Power9 CPUs with f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be care Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft Spins Cycle Computing into Core Azure Product

December 5, 2017

Last August, cloud giant Microsoft acquired HPC cloud orchestration pioneer Cycle Computing. Since then the focus has been on integrating Cycle’s organization Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE In-Memory Platform Comes to COSMOS

November 30, 2017

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is on a mission to accelerate space research. In August, it sent the first commercial-off-the-shelf HPC system into space for testing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Cluster Competition: Who Won and Why? Results Analyzed and Over-Analyzed

November 28, 2017

Everyone by now knows that Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU) took home the highest LINPACK Award and the Overall Championship from the recently concluded SC17 Student Cluster Competition. We also already know how the teams did in the Highest LINPACK and Highest HPCG competitions, with Nanyang grabbing bragging rights for both benchmarks. Read more…

By Dan Olds

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th Anniversary

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This