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April 21, 2010

In defense of supercomputing

Posted: 11:00 AM ET

I visited the seventh-fastest computer in the world today, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, about an hour east of San Francisco, California.

At first, I thought the idea of "supercomputing" seemed pretty 1990s. Supercomputers fill enormous rooms, suck down gobs of power and don't seem quite as sexy these days as tech that can fit in your hand.

And seventh-fastest? I mean, it's not first.

But, on a tour of the federally funded lab, Brian Carnes, one of the managers of this supercomputer, taught me a thing or two.

First of all, the stats were impressive:

_ One computer network here can do more than 700 trillion math problems in a second
_ The computer sits on an area that's nearly the size of a football field

More important, perhaps, are the applications the supercomputer supports.

[Side note: I can't vouch for all that's going on on these whirring machines because much of it is classified and signs all around the computer area remind employees not to tell visitors too much: "Unclassified discussions only," one sign read].

Some scientists at this lab use huge equations and mounds of data to try to predict what our warming climate will look like in the future. The computer crunches those. Others are trying to predict what will happen to the country's nuclear weapons stockpiles as they age - which is a safety issue, Carnes says, regardless of your stance on nukes.

The lab here is in an arms race of its own these days.

By 2012, it plans to add a new computer to the system, called "Sequoia."

Then, Carnes and others hope, the lab will have the world's fastest computer.

That means more math problems per second. More scientific research.

And another point for bragging rights.

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Filed under: climate change • computers • data centers

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Franko   April 21st, 2010 1:19 pm ET

We need faster supercomputers to solve global warming
And to help Wall Street improve the economy

Outer Haven   April 21st, 2010 2:05 pm ET

Its all apart of our Transhuman Evolution toward singulartiy

Franko   April 21st, 2010 3:13 pm ET

"try to predict what our warming climate will look like in the future"

Garbage presumptions, not even wrong models, super-computed to extreme precision, marketed by the UN IPCC, inspire confidence.

Zhen-Shan, L. and Xian, S.–. Multi-scale analysis of global temperature changes and trend of a drop in temperature in the next 20 years.

Oliver   April 21st, 2010 4:57 pm ET

Solve global cooling since the earth is cooling now. I remember all those 1990s models claiming it would be 5oC warmer everywhere now – rubbish. No mention of the computer modeled ozone hole which should have been at NY by now either. Improve the economy? – you don't need a supercomputer to see the pyramid scheme of infinite debt and slavery which is the problem. Output from the Supercomputer: Dismantle the current money system and federal reserve.

Sency   April 22nd, 2010 2:17 am ET

faster computers are coming – each year they get faster and cooler

R   April 22nd, 2010 9:41 am ET

SkyNet will be online soon. 😀

Claes   April 22nd, 2010 2:01 pm ET

We're smoked, that much I have figured out. If a threat ever materializes that the average tea-partier can't figure out in two seconds, we're going to walk straight into its jaws. Some will know what hit us, but that won't matter: the rabble will scream "it's a hoax!!!". It'll be a disaster within 50 years and you're going to deny it all they way until it strikes and then it won't matter.

Franko   April 22nd, 2010 3:40 pm ET

Unless faster supercomputers improve flash trading profits,
Obamageddon is coming - wailing and gnashing of Goldman's teeth.

HyperFast computing will prove global warming is CO2 pollution caused,
And printing money for green jobs will save polar bears from drowning.

MisterMoose   April 22nd, 2010 5:00 pm ET

Why do I find political ramblings everywhere in the comments sections of CNN? "Tea-partier", "Obamageddon", come on people, you are identifying yourselves as idiots at best. Does every aspect of your lives get consumed by such petty thoughts? The story above is about super computers and has nothing to do with politics. People simply don't take your types seriously.

Now, onto this story. Supercomputers offer much more than simply bragging rights. It's the technology that goes into these marvels that eventually gets smaller and cheaper that will some day end up in our pockets. The power of that computer pictured above will be in everyone's hands, in my estimation, within 20 years. That's just incredible!

ndginla   April 22nd, 2010 5:42 pm ET


Unfortunately, HyperFast computing won't prove anything. They are used to execute a model that is based partly on fact and partly on guesses trying to predict a result based on a system whose mechanics are not fully understood. What usually comes out of these models are a wide variety of probable outcomes. Minor variations in assumptions used in such models often produce significantly different results.
Models can be easily manipulated, often using seeminingly insignificant adjustments, to produce a result more in line with what the modeler is trying to 'prove'. The only way to know a model is right is to use hindsight. Even then, random natural events (such as the recent vocanic eruption) can significantly change what may occur in the future.

Franko   April 23rd, 2010 12:50 am ET

Ooogling; "Oak Ridge ... will use Nvidia's next generation GPU "
Massively interconnecting mass produced graphics chips.
Build your own, a 3 graphic card matrix cruncher ?

ProudGeek   April 24th, 2010 4:43 am ET

Wow. Amazing computer. I bet Windows Vista could slow it to a crawl after 3 days though.

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socal frank   April 24th, 2010 6:13 pm ET

Republicans are afraid of supercomputers because these computers will prove that the the world they live in is an illusion.

mike   April 25th, 2010 11:28 am ET

Why is it called A super computer when in fact it is a lot of computers working in tandem

Anon   April 25th, 2010 1:53 pm ET

SMP is more badass than someone's political opinions.

Anon   April 25th, 2010 1:58 pm ET

Mike: its parallel processing. or distributed computing.
Infiniband or similar interfaces bind the nodes together, like an extended bus layer from the motherboard.

Same thing could be done with cellphones and tcpip. but would work like crap due to slow cpus on phones, and poor interconnect between devices.

CHRIS   April 25th, 2010 8:39 pm ET

I think these computers should be working on the next generation of computer chips. Nanometer scaled chips, nanorobotics,...things like that. Or at least the math to help get us there faster. Try and get some information that can benefit us today. Even if we could predict future climate changes, its not gonna change anything. This technology is amazing, but it doesn't seem to be reaching its full potential.

Robert   April 26th, 2010 10:02 am ET

We need super computers to scan key words, word associations and word-to-word distances in real time for all of the new information being generated and posted on the web.

Guest   April 26th, 2010 1:40 pm ET

I thought the PlayStation3 was the current supercomputer.

jeff   April 26th, 2010 8:36 pm ET

Where was this junk heap when the stocks, financial, banking ,real estate market and the entire economy crashed......nice to have seen that s*7% coming eh?

Охлаждания за компютри   August 19th, 2017 4:01 pm ET

Supercomputers need super cooling i guess:)

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