The IBM BlueGene/L supercomputer at the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has reportedly achieved a speed of a quarter of a petaflop (or 280.6 teraflops; the previous record was 135.3 teraflops, achieved by the same machine in March 2005.)
megaflop: 1 million floating-point operations per second.
gigaflop: 1 billion floating-point operations per second.
teraflop: 1 trillion floating-point operations per second.
petaflop: 1 quadrillion floating point operations per second (or one thousand teraflops).
IBM say that if every person in the world had a handheld calculator it would still take decades to perform the number of calculations Blue Gene performs every single second.
In a Businessweek interview in 2001, the designer of Blue Gene, William Pulleyblank, suggested possible applications for this level of computing speed as:
– modelling protein structure for pharmaceutical research
– rapidly re-optmising complex schedules (eg airline timetables) to handle unexpected events
The NNSA use the machine to model nuclear explosions, thus minimising the need to actually test weapons. Other current uses include CAE, 3d rendering, and supply chain modelling and optimisation.
The Japanese Earth Simulator (a mere 40 teraflops…) models the earths atmosphere and weather and examines possible new relationships between large scale long term natural and human activities.
Mr Pulleyblank also said that the cost of supercomputing is coming down, bringing this sort of power within the reach of ordinary researchers.
See my previous post on the availability of larger amounts of memory.