It Petaflops, and it's Linux

When it comes to supercomputing, flopping is a good thing. While geeks everywhere are gushing over gigahertz and terabytes, the uber-geeks at IBM, in conjunction with the nuclear overlords at Los Alamos, have been chasing the elusive petaflop — and they've finally got it, 6000ft² of it.

The new system, christened Roadrunner, was developed to oversee the safety and security of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — a terrifying prospect to anyone familiar with the Terminator franchise. Roadrunner is three times faster than Blue Gene, also an IBM creation and the current holder of the "world's fastest supercomputer" title, and the first to sustain speeds over 1 petaflop. It is composed of 6,948 dual-core AMD Opteron chips — certainly good news for the competition-squeezed manufacturer — and 12,960 IBM Cell Broadband Engine chips — the same ones that power the Sony PS3. The processors are housed in 3,456 specially-designed "tri-blade" servers, holding two of the IBM engines and one AMD processor each, producing 400 billion operations per second.

Fitting in all that processing power — which at 376 million calculations per watt even manages to be planet-friendly — totals up to half a million pounds, tied together with 57 miles of fiber optic cable. The best part about it, in our opinion — possibly outweighing the whole putting a massive computer powered by Playstation parts in charge of nuclear missiles thing — is that it doesn't succumb to proprietary offerings. It runs Linux.

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Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.