Blue Gene pulls ahead in supercomputer race

For the fourth time in less than two months, a supercomputer speed record has been claimed.

Energy Department officials said Nov. 4 that the agency's Blue Gene/L machine developed by IBM Corp. has hit processing speeds of 70.72 teraflops using the Linpack industry benchmark. That's almost double the speed Blue Gene achieved in late September, when the supercomputer broke the 2-year-old record held by NEC Computer Inc.'s Earth Simulator.

Last month, NEC officials said a supercomputer intended for the United Kingdom's Meteorological Office has a peak processing speed of 65 teraflops. And last week, NASA formally unveiled its Columbia supercomputer cluster, built by Silicon Graphics Inc. using Intel Corp. chips. and designed for a peak speed of more than 50 teraflops.

However, Blue Gene is running at one-quarter of its final size, officials said. According to an Energy news release, when Blue Gene is completed, its peak processing speed will exceed the Earth Simulator's by a factor of about nine while requiring one-seventh as much electrical power and one-fourteenth the floor space.

Blue Gene's cluster design enables it to increase speeds as more computers are added. It now has 16 racks, double its size from September.

"That's the whole point of the difference between a vector and parallel-processing in clusters," IBM spokesperson Jill Holt said.

A calculation that would take 30 days on the third-fastest machine on the Top 500 list of supercomputers in 2003 takes three days on Blue Gene, officials said.

Although Blue Gene's latest incarnation gives IBM officials bragging rights for now, Bob Bishop, chief executive officer of SGI, said the company remains competitive in the supercomputer space. Bishop drew a David-and-Goliath comparison between IBM and the much smaller SGI.

"This is a two-horse race, and to quote IBM itself, 'No one is No. 1 forever,'" Bishop said in a statement. "It's amazing to compare what SGI's 2,600 employees accomplished with the NASA Columbia system in 120 days vs. what it's taken IBM's 319,000 employees to do in several years with Blue Gene."

Ever since NEC introduced the Earth Simulator in Japan, Bush administration officials have been driving to regain U.S. dominance in high-end computing.

"High-performance computing is the backbone of the nation's science and technology enterprise, which is why the department has made supercomputing a top priority investment," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said in a statement.

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