Roadrunner, the world's first hybrid supercomputer, has broken through the petaflop barrier – operating at a staggering 1-quadrillion calculations per second.
Built by engineers and scientists at IBM and the US's Los Alamos Laboratory, Roadrunner cost about $100-million to develop and runs about twice as fast as the current fastest supercomputer, IBM Blue Gene at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
The computer will be used mainly to ensure the safety and reliability of the US's nuclear weapons stockpile. It will also be used for research into astronomy, energy, human genome science and climate change.
The computer's hybrid design, uses the Cell Broadband Engine – originally designed for video game platforms such as the Sony Playstation 3 – in conjunction with x86 processors from AMD.
In total, Roadrunner connects 6 948 dual-core AMD Opteron chips, on IBM Model LS21 blade servers, as well as 12,960 Cell engines on IBM Model QS22 blade servers.
The Roadrunner system has 80 terabytes of memory, and is housed in 288 refrigerator-sized, IBM BladeCenter racks occupying 6 000 square feet. Its 10 000 connections – both Infiniband and Gigabit Ethernet – require 57 miles of fibre optic cable. Roadrunner weighs 500 000 pounds.
Two IBM QS22 blade servers and one IBM LS21 blade server are combined into a specialized “tri-blade” configuration for Roadrunner. The machine is composed of a total of 3 456 tri-blades built in IBM’s Rochester plant.
Standard processing is handled by the Opteron processors. Mathematically and CPU-intensive elements are directed to the Cell processors. Each tri-blade unit can run at 400-billion operations per second (400-Gigaflops).
Roadrunner operates on open-source Linux software from Red Hat.
Compared to most traditional supercomputer designs, Roadrunner’s hybrid format sips power (3.9 megawatts) and delivers world-leading efficiency – 376-million calculations per watt. IBM expects Roadrunner to place among the top energy-efficient systems later in June when the official “Green 500” list of supercomputers is issued.
IBM is developing new software to make Cell-powered hybrid computing broadly accessible. Roadrunner’s massive software effort targets commercial applications for hybrid supercomputing. With corporate and academic partners, IBM is developing an open-source ecosystem that will bring hybrid supercomputing to financial services, energy exploration and medical imaging industries among others.
Applications for Cell-based hybrid supercomputing include: calculating cause and effect in capital markets in real-time, supercomputers in financial services can instantly predict the ripple effect of a stock market change throughout the markets. In medicine, complex 3-D renderings of tissues and bone structures will happen in real-time, as patients are being examined.