IBM to build Cell supercomputer for DOE

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Washington, D.C. - IBM will construct a new supercomputer for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The system will combine Cell and Opteron processors and deliver more than twice the combined performance of the DOE's BlueGene/L and ASC Purple systems, which are currently ranked #1 and #3 on the Top 500 supercomputer list.

Codenamed "Roadrunner", the new system will be installed at DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory and house a hybrid design of more than 16,000 Opteron processor cores in standard System x3755 servers as well as more than 16,000 Cell BE CPUs in Blade Center H devices. IBM promises that the supercomputer will be able to segment computational processes with file IO and communication activity being handled by the Opterons and more complex and repetitive elements being thrown at the Cell chips.

Roadrunner is expected to deliver a peak performance of 1.6 petaflops (1600 trillion calculations per second) and a sustained performance of up to 1 petaflop. The NNSA already operates two IBM-built supercomputers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which are currently ranked as the world's fastest and third fastest supercomputers: BlueGene/L, completed in 2005, has 131,072 p5 processors and delivers a sustained performance of 280.6 teraflops. The 12,208 processor ASC Purple was measured to provide a sustained performance of 75.8 teraflops. If IBM keeps its promise, then Roadrunner will deliver 2.8x (3.5x peak) the combined processing power of BlueGene/L and ASC Purple.

IBM BlueGene/L


Besides the fact that the system aims to shatter performance records, it is also one of the first real-world examples of AMD's "Torrenza" platform. Torrenza promotes an "open" AMD x86 platform that takes advantage of Direct Connect Architecture and the Hypertransport interface. According to IBM, Roadrunner will occupy about 12,000 square feet of floor space, or approximately the size of three basketball courts. Despite it integrates almost three times more processors, the 64 racks of the BlueGene/L only cover 2500 square feet, according to IBM. The company will begin shipping the new supercomputer to the DOE facility later this year. IBM expects that the system will be completed sometime in 2008.