IBM has world's fastest supercomputer

Wednesday, November 10, 2004 Posted: 11:08 AM EST (1608 GMT)

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Big Blue has brought the title of the world's fastest supercomputer back to the United States for the first time in three years.

International Business Machine Corp.'s still incomplete Blue Gene/L system was officially named the fastest in the world Monday by the Top500 project, an independent group of university computer scientists who release supercomputer rankings every six months.

The system was clocked at 70.72 trillion calculations per second, almost double the performance of the reigning leader, Japan's Earth Simulator, which can sustain 35.86 trillion calculations a second.

Erich Strohmaier, one of the co-founders of the list, said that when the Earth Simulator appeared two and a half years ago, it was at least four times speedier than the next-fastest machine and held on while the entire top 10 was replaced.

"It is going up in steps. The step that the Earth Simulator made was big. The Blue Gene is going to be ahead of the curve for the next couple of years," Strohmaier said. "Next year with the final Blue Gene, four times what it is this year, it is going to be a real step up and will be hard to beat."

Blue Gene/L will be installed next year at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where it will be used to study the nation's nuclear stockpile and perform other research. Currently, it's just a quarter of its planned size of 360 trillion calculations a second.

IBM officials downplayed a U.S. manufacturer regaining the top spot.

"IBM has dominated the top of supercomputing for a number of years, having reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the world is not that significant," said Dave Turek, IBM's vice president of deep computing. Instead, he pointed to its relatively low energy consumption and small size.

Blue Gene/L will consume about $1 million a year in electricity. If the Earth Simulator were as powerful, it would consume $60 million each year for electricity, Turek said.

The IBM system also will take up just 2,500 square feet, compared with 34,000 square feet for Earth Simulator.

"This machine is designed for a very, very small physical footprint and an energy efficient design," Turek said.

Besides IBM's Blue Gene/L taking the top spot, another U.S. supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center grabbed No. 2 in the world, turning 51.87 trillion calculations a second, or teraflops.

Tokyo-based NEC, which built the Japanese supercomputer, welcomes the competition from U.S. manufacturers after topping the list, said Dennis Lam with Houston-based NEC Solutions America. Earth Simulator is now third.

"If you talk about building a real-life system, I think NEC has proven that they can make a system as good as anyone's," Lam said. "Definitely, NEC has the technology to do so again if we choose to."

Though the United States previously had nine of the 10 fastest computers in the world, the Japanese supercomputer on the top of the list has been a sore spot for U.S. officials, federal research labs and universities.