Sometimes, I get wind of something that has all the makings of an April Fool’s Day prank: but not often in September. Which is why I took a second look at the story about an IBM supercomputer in the making, with ambitions to break the petaflop speed barrier, which will use the heart of a, well, a, I’m honestly not joking, a Sony PlayStation. Hmm, a games console within 12,000 square feet of floor space and 360 server racks? Perhaps a little large for the average home user.
Roadrunner is a project jointly developed by IBM and the Los Alamos National Laboratory where it is destined to be ultimately installed. The two phase build is progressing well, and phase one is due to be delivered to Los Alamos next month. This $35 million phase consists of a Red Hat Linux 4.3 driven base cluster of IBM System x3755 servers using AMD Opteron technology.
Impressive enough stuff, and sufficient to keep me and my online gaming sessions satisfied no doubt. But it won’t break that 1000 trillion calculation per second barrier, that’s for sure. Which is where the second phase comes in, scheduled for late next year at the earliest. Nobody is saying how much phase two will cost, but I suspect it will be more than the upgrade to Cell processors, originally designed for use within the Sony PlayStation 3 games console, might suggest. What IBM are saying, is that by combining both cluster types , Roadrunner will hit an incredible 1.6 petaflops in the performance stakes. That is more than four times faster than Blue Gene which runs at ‘just’ 360 teraflops.
The secret to this speed being the ability to offload highly repetitive specialized calculations to the Cell processors, while leaving the AMD Opteron powered cluster to deal with everything else. The other secret will be in developing the applications that can work with two different processor based clusters, dividing the calculation load effectively.
And exactly what is Roadrunner to be used for? Apparently, so my sources tell me, the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration is to use it to simulate the aging process of the nuclear warhead stockpile.
Money well spent then.
I wonder how much it would cost to network 10,000 PS3 consoles together which, theoretically, should be capable of petaflop performance?