Supercomputers Break the Petaflops Barrier

IBM Blue Gene /P Node Card
Image: This is a Blue Gene /P node card. See full size image here.

The IBM Blue Gene /P and the SUN Constellation will soon go where no supercomputers have gone before: One petaflops and above. There is even a 3-petaflops version of the IBM Blue Gene /P planned.

“FLOPS” means “floating point operations per second”.

One megaflops is 1,000,000 floating point operations per second, one gigaflops is 1,000,000,000 and one teraflops is 1,000,000,000,000.

So one petaflops is 1,000,000,000,000,000 (aka one quadrillion) floating point operations per second.

To put this in context, the whole BOINC distributed computing network, with over half a million active computers, has a throughput of 562 teraflops (as of June 2007).

Like its predecessor, the Blue Gene /L, the /P is built around a tightly-integrated system-on-a-chip design that stresses low power consumption, a high number of nodes, and massive parallelism. Where the Blue Gene /L integrated these features around a dual-core PowerPC 440 processor running at 700MHz, the /P relies on a more advanced quad-core design that links four PowerPC 450 processors at 850MHz into a single package.

The one-petaflops version of the Blue Gene /P requires 294,912 processors and takes up 72 racks, while the three petaflops flavor requires 884,736 processors linked across a 216-rack cluster. Like the Blue Gene /L, the /P is capable of electrically isolating a failed node to allow the system to continue operation.

IBM Blue Gene /L

IBM Blue Gene /L
Images: Blue Gene /L, 65,536 dual-core processors, 360 teraflop peak speed, 1.5 megawatt power draw. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

the [Blue Gene /P] system is scheduled to deploy for the first time later this year at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Labratory. Other deployments to follow include the Max Planck Society and the Forschungszentrum Julich research center (both in Germany), Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Labs (American), and the Science and Technology Facilities Council in Cheshire, England.

And it’s not over: Blue Gene /Q, the next version of the Blue Gene architecture, is expected to reach 3-10 petaflops.

To see a list of the Top 500 supercomputers (those that aren’t kept secret, anyway), check out


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