Today's fastest supercomputer, with peak performance in the 10-petaflop range, will be bested by twofold when IBM's Blue Gene/Q supercomputer becomes fully operational in 2012 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The 20-petaflop "Sequoia" Blue Gene/Q supercomputer will be used to simulate nuclear weapons performance, decode gene sequences, analyze oil exploration readings and predict the path of hurricanes. Sequoia will also be the leading candidate for again winning the "green" supercomputer crown next year—it already won the Green500 in 2011—by cranking out 2G flops per watt.
When completed, the Blue Gene/Q system named Sequoia is expected to achieve 20 petaflops. (Source: IBM)
Sequoia follows the earlier announcement of the "Mira" Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, which is currently being constructed at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). When finished next year, Mira is expected to run at 10 petaflops. Mira will be dedicated to improving U.S. competitiveness by virtue of running detailed simulations of new electric car battery designs, analyzing climate change and testing theories about the evolution of the universe.
The Department of Energy (DOE) maintains a national security laboratory at Lawrence Livermore National Lab for its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), one of whose major concerns is measuring the effectiveness of U.S. nuclear deterrents without tests (which have been banned since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1996). Using supercomputer simulations of the aging nuclear weapons, the lab gauges their yield and detonation capabilities. The massively parallel supercomputer will also be useful for network management simulations, energy research and climatology.
The Sequoia Blue Gene/Q will be composed of more than 1.6 million processor cores and 1.6 petabytes of memory in 96 racks, covering an area of 3,000 square feet and drawing 6 megawatts of power. Mira will have half as many processor cores as Sequoia, plus Mira will feature 70 petabytes of disk storage. Both were designed to expand in capabilities to meet the needs of future scientific and defense applications.
The Blue Gene supercomputer architecture, now in its third generation, can be scaled up to 100 petaflops by merely adding new racks of processors. Using IBM's PowerPC A2 processor architecture—each of which includes 16 cores—supercomputers are built up from cascading 100-teraflop processor planes, each of which houses 8,192 cores. Special hardware speeds parallel processing tasks, such as speculative execution using transactional memory that stores intermediate results in order to permit easy backtracking to redo work dependent on the outcomes from other parallel threads.
The Blue Gene family of supercomputers has won the Top500 prize for world's fastest supercomputer six times and earned IBM the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2009.