IBM unveils BlueGene/P supercomputer to break Petaflop barrier

  • Armonk (NY) – IBM today announced the second generation of its BlueGene supercomputer technology. The system will scale to a performance of 3 PFlops, which more than 10 times the performance than today’s fastest supercomputer in operation.

    So, let’s get right to the point: What exactly does it take to achieve 1 Petaflop (PFlop)  of performance (which translates into one quadrillion calculations per second) ?

    In the case of BlueGene/P, you will have to order a system with 72 racks with 32 boards each. Every board will carry 32 PowerPC 450 CPUs with four processor cores each. In case you have been counting, such a Petaflop installation will translate into a total of 73,728 CPUs or 294,912 cores. IBM said that the technology will be able to hit 3 PFlops with 221,184 CPUs or 884,736 processors in 216 racks.

    BleueGene/P is based on the PowerPC 450 processor which is clocked at 850 MHz, up from 700 MHz in the preceding BlueGene/L. IBM will install 2 GB of SDRAM per node.

    Despite its sheer processing power, the manufacturer labels BlueGene/P as a “green design”. IBM said that the supercomputer was “purpose-built to fit in smaller spaces and use less electricity compared to other commercially available designs.” Additionally, IBM claims that the Blue Gene/P supercomputer is at least seven times more energy efficient than any other supercomputer.

    Of course, in supercomputer terms, energy efficiency is a relative term due to the massive power consumption of such a system. IBM says that a 1 PFlop system will consume about 2.9 megawatts, the equivalent of the power consumption of 2900 homes. A 3 PFlop system runs at about 8.7 megawatts. This number does not include the power consumption of a necessary cooling system that will keep BlueGene/P at its required operating temperature.

    However, even less elaborate BlueGene/P system will be able to deliver a processing horsepower that rivals many supercomputer installations today. One rack with a power consumption of 40 kilowatts is rated at a performance of 13.9 TFlops, which would be enough to place such a system on position 40 of the current Top 500 supercomputer list.