Faster than a speeding petaflop: IBM flies past Japanese rival to win battle of the supercomputers with its Sequoia machine
American firm's Sequoia machine designed to simulate nuclear bomb tests
Stephen Foley is a former Associate Business Editor of The Independent, based in New York. He left in August 2012. In a decade at the paper, he covered personal finance, the UK stock market and the pharmaceuticals industry, and had also been the Business section's share tipster. Between arriving with three suitcases in Manhattan in January 2006 and his departure, he witnessed and reported on a great economic boom turning spectacularly to bust. In March 2009, he was named Business and Finance Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards.
Tuesday 19 June 2012
The US has regained the crown for having the world's fastest supercomputer thanks to a new machine so powerful that it can simulate nuclear bombs and power plant accidents – eliminating the need to conduct dangerous underground tests.
The government-funded IBM machine, called Sequoia, can do in eight hours the number of calculations that it would take the average laptop 20,000 years to complete.
It beat Japan's K Computer – manufactured by Fujitsu – to the top of the bi-annual Top500 list of the world's fastest machines, as compiled by a team of international computer science professors. The US dominated the list towards the end of the last decade but lost the top spot, initially to China, two years ago.
Sequoia's capabilities are measured at 16.3 petaflops – or quadrillions of computations per second – compared to the K Computer's 10.5 petaflops. A quadrillion is one thousand million million.
The publication of the Top500 list gives a big edge to IBM, which has four computers in the top 10. But the competition is expected to hot up because of the burgeoning demand for handling vast amounts of data.
"Today, the National Nuclear Security Administration uses Sequoia to research the safety, security and reliability of the United States' nuclear deterrent, replacing the need for underground testing," IBM's research director of deep computing systems wrote in a company blog post. But its use will soon be expanded to search for patterns across the natural sciences and to model the physical properties of materials at extreme pressures and temperatures.
It could also have commercial uses. Électricité de France (EDF), the world's largest utility company, is already using a similar, smaller IBM computer to improve the efficiency of its power plants and electricity grids.
Sequoia has a back-to-the-future feel for IBM, which became a technological powerhouse in the last century thanks to its manufacture of room-size computing machines. Its record-breaking new model takes up 3,500 sq ft at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory outside San Francisco, and is constantly tended by a team of technicians, but the hardware could not be further removed from the punch cards and vacuum tubes of the early computing era. It contains 1.5 million processing cores and its cooling system uses circulating water rather than air, making it one of the most energy-efficient supercomputers, as well as the fastest.
The US tally of three computers in the top 10 was actually down from the last Top500 list six months ago, when it had five. Germany and China have two each in the top 10. Japan, France and Italy have one.
That's some guestlist! Stunning images show huge dynastic wedding between Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families which attracted 25,000 guests
Emergency landing at Heathrow sparks further controversy over London airport capacity
Two bailed after arrest over Woolwich attack Twitter comments
Exclusive: Woolwich killings suspect Michael Adebolajo was inspired by cleric banned from UK after urging followers to behead enemies of Islam
Men arrested after RAF jet is scrambled to escort Pakistan Airlines passenger plane to London Stansted Airport
- 1 What, let gays get married? We must be bonkers
- 2 'Something passed underneath us, quite close': Airbus A320 has close encounter with UFO
- 3 Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
- 4 Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
- 5 Exclusive: Woolwich killings suspect Michael Adebolajo was inspired by cleric banned from UK after urging followers to behead enemies of Islam
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.