A couple of weeks ago, IBM’s Roadrunner supercomputer blew past the petaflop barrier. (IBM news and NYTimes article). Having spent so much time in the Kilo, Mega, and Giga ranges during my career, and finally getting comfortable with Tera prefixes, this threw me into one of my little time trips.
As the music for a time shift faded and the fuzzy strings cleared up (like in any good TV flashback), I was talking with a mainframe systems programmer in downtown Detroit, and based on the wide ties, I could see it was the early 80’s. As a proud owner of an aging behemoth System 370 (a 3033 in the single digit range of MIPs), he was thinking about crossing into 2 digits territory, and dreaming of futures of gigaflops.
At that time we were well past basic accounting into complex transactions, just neophytes in distributed processing and well before the internet. I remember trying to not roll my eyes and wondering: ‘Come on, really, what would we need that kind of power for? ‘
Well, in 2008, what we (and I say we since many of these projects are federally funded by whose tax dollars?) are using this kind of power for is even more mind-blowing than my fellow gear head buddies might have envisioned. How about these for starters?: Nuclear Stockpile Monitoring, Terrorist Activity, Climate Change, and Genome Analysis....
One thousand trillion… 1,000,000,000,000,000 – Fifteen zeroes and my head starts to fuzz out. The names for the next progressions at 18 (Exa), 21 (Zetta), 24 (Yotta), and 27 (Xona) zeroes are waiting. Researchers will get us there by continuing to look at every element in the system and may use approaches like the recent chip stacking experiments where water cooling rivers as thin as a hair flow between stacked condos of computing. They’ll probably also use a mix of specialized processors as you see in this Roadrunner and the current System z. Out of the way petaflop… here comes the new fraternity, Exa, Zetta, Yotta. I think I’ll get a t-shirt![Read More]