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.
“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
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.