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World's first Petaflop supercomputer Roadrunner is shut down

Was using too much power
Tue Apr 02 2013, 11:03

THE WORLD'S FIRST Petaflops supercomputer Roadrunner has been switched off after five years of operation due to its high energy consumption.

The IBM built supercomputer cluster, which is housed at the US Los Alamos National Laboratory, was the first to break the Petaflops barrier of one quadrillion calculations per second when it was launched in 2008.

roadrunner supercomputer cluster racks

"Roadrunner exemplified stockpile stewardship: an excellent team integrating complex codes with advanced computing architectures to ensure a safe, secure and effective deterrent," said US National Nuclear Safety Administration assistant deputy administrator Chris Deeney.

"Roadrunner and its successes have positioned us well to weather the technology changes on the HPC horizon as we implement stockpile modernisation without recourse to underground testing."

Based on a combination of AMD Opteron and IBM Cell processors, the system held the number one spot in the supercomputer top 500 rankings for over a year.

roadrunner supercomputer cluster close up

What made Roadrunner unique was its design. It combined two different kinds of processors, making it a "hybrid" machine retaining 6,563 dual-core general-purpose AMD Opteron processors, with each core linked to an IBM Powerxcell 8i graphics processor, dubbed a "Cell". The Cell was an enhanced version of the processor originally designed for Sony's Playstation 3 games console, adapted to support scientific computing.

According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Roadrunner was shut down on 31 March due to the system drawing too much power, operating at 2,345kW at its peak. When compared to other, more recently-built supercomputer clusters, that's much lower efficiency than what's achievable with equivalent processing power.

Los Alamos National Laboratory said that future supercomputers will have to improve on energy efficiency to make the power bill affordable.

roadrunner supercomputer cluster overall

"Future supercomputers will also need new solutions for handling and storing the vast amounts of data involved in such massive calculations," the laboratory said.

Roadrunner's once unparalleled power allowed scientists to study a variety of scientific problems at an unprecedented scale while in unclassified shakedown mode. Research included nanowire material behaviour, magnetic reconnection, laser backscatter, HIV phylogenetics and a simulation of the universe at a 70 billion particle scale.

After the machine is shut off but before it is dismantled, researchers will have about a month to do experiments on operating system memory compression techniques, the laboratory said. It will also help guide the design of future high capacity computer clusters. µ


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