IBM builds world's fastest supercomputer

Adam Oxford at

IBM-Sequoia

IBM may not make PCs any more, but it looks like that's our loss and not theirs. Supercomputer rankings site TOP500 has just awarded a system based on its Sequoia design the official title of world's fastest computer. The theoretical peak performance of the new number one is almost twice as quick as the previous incumbent of the role, Fujitsu's K Computer.

With almost one hundred thousand individual IBM Power BQC processors and over million and a half cores, the new champ is housed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US where it has a slightly sinister task: it's used by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for modelling the performance of nuclear weapons. In other words, it may be technically faster, since the K Computer is mostly used for things like modelling climate change and designing solar cells, on a scale of moral equivalence it's still our favourite.

Liberal qualms aside, Sequoia is incredible though. It consumes 7.89MW of power, and has one and a half petabytes of memory. Theoretical peak performance is 20 petaflops, and it's been benchmarked running at 16.32petaflops. By comparison, K Computer is theoretically capable of running at 11petaflops, and its number one position was held with a benchmark of 10 petaflops.

Here's some perspective – just 18 months ago, the fastest computer in the TOP500 list was performing at 2.57 petaflops. For anyone who's still unsure about the technical feasibility of something like Google Glasses, from a server side augmented reality point of view, that's an increase of six and a half times in performance in less than two years.

Of course, you need the budget of a nuclear defence program (around $70bn a year) to develop fast computers that quickly. There aren't many computer companies that sit on that kind of cash.


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