IBM’s Sequoia tops the world’s fastest supercomputer list

IBM SequoiaThe IBM Sequoia has taken the top spot from Japan’s K Computer on the so-called “Top500” list of the fastest supercomputers in the world. According to the benchmarking software used to measure each computer’s performance, and determine its place on the list, the Sequoia can perform 16 quadrillion calculations per second, or 16.32 petaflops. The K Computer’s no slouch though, with a 10.51 petaflop rating, which is still good enough for second place.

Sequoia requires 7.9 megawatts of power to run, and is described as “the pinnacle of energy efficiency” by IBM’s vice president of deep computing. While it still sounds like a power hungry beast compared to your own PC, it gently sips power compared to the K Computer’s 12.6 megawatt requirements.

Revealed in early 2009, Sequoia has been built for the US department of energy and can be found at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Initial benchmarks saw it in seventeenth place on the Top500 list, but a series of upgrades have helped it fulfill its potential.

Sequoia is a Linux IBM BlueGene/Q system — a range which has an impressive history when it comes to supercomputers — and is made up of 96 computer racks and powered by Power BQC 16-core, 1.6Ghz processors. How many cores in total? An astonishing 1,572,864.

With that much power, it must be doing some important work. Curing cancer, perhaps? Finding the ultimate question to the Ultimate Answer? Sadly not, it’s going to be running simulations of the effectiveness of nuclear weapons, and working out how to safely extend their life.

To help understand just how powerful Sequoia really is, the BBC said that to repeat the calculations the supercomputer makes in one hour, it would take 6.7 billion people equipped with calculators, 320 years of non-stop work.

The official site of the Top500 list, which is compiled twice a year, highlights just how quickly technology is advancing in the world of supercomputer performance too. The combined amount of power from all systems featured in November last year was 74.2 petaflops, but the new list sees this figure leap to 123.4 petaflops.

Sequoia is the first US supercomputer to reach the number one spot on the Top500 list since 2009.

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