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Supercomputer Breaks Speed Record

There are fast computers, and then there's IBM's BlueGene/L supercomputer.

The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and IBM today announced the world's fastest supercomputer has outdone itself. In its latest testing, IBM said its BlueGene/L (BG/L) achieved a sustained performance of 207.3 trillion floating-point operations per second (teraFLOPS), a new record for floating-point performance.

IBM said its software researchers were able to improve performance with new mathematical libraries that take better advantage of the dual-core architecture of the floating point unit of the PowerPC 440 processor used in Blue-Gene/L. A year ago, BG/L's floating point performance was less than 100 teraFLOPS.

The BG/L had already been recognized by the Top500.org as the world's fastest supercomputer, reaching a speed of 367 teraFLOPS in overall performance. The independent Top500.org is expected to release new rankings later this month. The IBM powerhouse 64-rack system is driven by a whopping 131,072 PowerPC 440 processors.

BG/L is housed at NNSA's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The record speed was achieved on Qbox computer code for conducting materials science simulations critical to national security. Qbox is a first principles molecular dynamics (FPMD) code, designed to predict the properties of metals under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure - a long-standing goal for researchers in materials science and high energy-density physics. These FPMD codes are used for complex simulations at the atomic level in a number of scientific areas, including metallurgy, solid-state physics, chemistry, biology and nanotechnology.

The computer simulation capabilities provide the nuclear weapons analysis that NNSA said it needs to keep the nuclear weapons stockpile safe, secure and reliable without underground nuclear testing.

"This is an important step on the path to performing predictive simulations of nuclear weapons, and these simulations are vital to ensuring the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons stockpile," said Dimitri Kusnezov, head of NNSA's Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program.

The capability to do predictive science is key to NNSA's national security mission, as its researchers try to understand how the materials in nuclear weapons age, particularly for those warheads that have aged beyond their intended life. IBM said the performance of the Qbox code, specially designed to run on large-scale platforms such as BG/L, has implications for the broader research community and will likely enable the development of new materials of interest to many industries.

"Disruptive advanced architecture work for ASC leads to low-cost, but highly useful computers that benefit the nation well beyond national security," said Kusnezov.

Future application areas might include super-enhanced simulations in other areas.

"Take, for example, a pharmaceutical company designing a drug for the heart," said Jim Sexton, a PhD researcher at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center in Yorkstown, N.Y. "In a few years they might be able to model the heart and how the drug interacts with it over a period of several weeks," Sexton told internetnews.com.

Similarly, Sexton sees the potential for car manufacturers to model a new engine and simulate wear and tear over its expected lifetime and optimize performance.

"BlueGene is showing the way," said Sexton. "Now the commercial world is asking questions they would never have considered a computer being able to answer."