US to continue supercomputer cold war

The US is going toe to toe with China’s Tianhe-1. After being overtaken by the Nvidia powered machine it wants its mojo back.

China’s Tianhe-1A, announced last month, currently holds the title as the world’s fastest supercomputer. It set a record of 2.57 petaflops in the latest edition of the quarterly Top 500 supercomputer list, while another Chinese supercomputer, Nebulae, ranks third on the list. The US used to rank first.

The US is none too pleased. The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are both planning to launch computers in 2012 that they claim will be almost eight times faster than Tianhe-1A at, potentially, 20 petaflops.

Lawrence Livermore is working on Sequoia, which is based on a future iteration of IBM’s BlueGene supercomputing technology. It will be operational by 2012 and will include 1.6 petabytes of memory and 1.6 million cores. Uses will include “uncertainty quantification” simulations and weapons science.

Information Week reports that a federal-state partnership, the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications is also building a supercomputer that may beat the Tianhe-1A. Blue Waters will be used for a wide variety of science research, including biology, astronomy, materials science, engineering, physics, and meteorology. The supercomputer will achieve sustained performance of about one petaflop and peak performance of around ten petaflops.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Omnipresent High Performance Computing program, meanwhile, is developing hardware and software designs for exascale computers and the necessary power management, file systems, and resource management technologies. An exaflop is 1000 petaflops, or a quadrillion operations per second.