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April 04, 2013

Plug pulled on IBM's record breaking computer Roadrunner

IBM's record-breaking Roadrunner supercomputer was the fastest computer in the world when introduced five years ago.
But this week, it was retired and soon will be dismantled, surpassed by other machines in the fast-evolving world of supercomputers.
The Roadrunner, which owed much of its hybrid design and manufacture to Big Blue's Rochester campus, was the first machine to break the computer industry's "sound barrier" in 2008 by clocking a petaflop or one quadrillion calculations per second.

Roadrunner_1“We just all looked around and said, ‘We made it,’” stated Peter Keller, who was part of the Rochester manufacturing team that recorded that historic milestone on May 25, 2008.

The plug was pulled on the $121 million supercomputer on Easter Sunday at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"Roadrunner, while I would not define it as strictly obsolete, it has been surpassed by newer technology," said Kevin Roark, of Los Alamos. "It's perfectly normal. …This is the natural progression."

Roadrunner's duties are being shifted over to Los Alamos' Cielo supercomputer, which is made by Seattle-based Cray Inc. Two years younger than Roadrunner, Roark describes it as faster, smaller, less expensive and more energy-efficient than its IBM predecessor.

Until it was shut down, Roadrunner ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week since being delivered to the laboratory via 25 trucks.

While it now is being experimented on as it waits to be dismantled and shredded, Roadrunner took Los Alamos' work on the United States' nuclear weapons stockpile to a new level.

"It has performed remarkably well. It has really helped us solve some fundamental problems that were essentially unsolvable before a computer of its speed," Roark said.

It wasn't just its speed that made Roadrunner so groundbreaking. The revolutionary hybrid design that coordinated the use of different types of computer chips, including Cell chips originally designed in Rochester to be used in Sony's PlayStation 3 video game system.

"Roadrunner was a truly pioneering idea," said Gary Grider, of Los Alamos' High Performance Computing Division, in a statement. "Roadrunner got everyone thinking in new ways about how to build and use a supercomputer."

Los Alamos teamed up with IBM to build Roadrunner from commercially available parts. They ended up with 278 refrigerator-size racks filled with two different types of processors, all linked together by 55 miles of fiber optic cable.

The supercomputer has been used over the last five years to model viruses and unseen parts of the universe, to better understand lasers and for nuclear weapons work. That includes simulations aimed at ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation's aging arsenal.

Roadrunner was the world's fastest computer for 18 months. At its peak, it was two times faster than Blue Gene/L, which was IBM’s star machine and the fastest computer in the world in 2007.

Its historic speed kept Roadrunner on the Top 500 Fastest Computers list, despite being outdated. It still ranked as 22nd fastest machine in the world in November.

IBM had four of the top 10 fastest computers on that November list, and all had roots in Rochester. Sequoia, a BlueGene/ Q, took the No. 2 spot behind Cray's Titan. Other BlueGenes — Miram JUQUEEN and Fermi — locked up the fourth, fifth and ninth spots.

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Off topic - but I saw that Cap N Cork has closed?

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