November 14, 2013

Supercomputing: What in the world is it?

Supercomputing. You have probably heard of it before but do you actually know what it involves? Supercomputers, or high performance clusters (HPCs) are quite different from your laptop or desktop. These computers are huge. The computers range from the large rooms in buildings to huge facilities. One supercomputer used by the United States government is at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It is called the Titan and covers an area of around 404 square meters.
Titan Supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
These very powerful computers are not for individuals. They are extremely expensive. Referring back to Titan, the computer costs $97 million US dollars to build. They are this expensive because of the very high quality parts in the computer. The Titan uses 18 688 16-core AMD Opteron CPUs, 18 688 NVIDIA Tesla GPUs, over 762 TB of memory, and 40 PB in storage space.

Supercomputers are very high performance. A regular home desktop can perform 2 gigaFLOPS (1 Billion Floating point Operations Per Second). The Titan can perform a peak of 27 petaFLOPS ( 1 petaFLOPS = 1 million gigaFLOPS). The TOP500 list ranks the world’s top supercomputers and the Titan is ranked second on that list (as of June 2013).

The basic components and structure of supercomputers are very similar to regular home computers. They both require the same hardware model to function but one is on a much larger scale. Supercomputers are helping advance our society by using the power of computation to solve some of humankind's biggest questions and mysteries.

Sources: ORNL, Youtube (Technology Today, Berkeley Lab)