In 2012, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will fire up an I.B.M. BlueGene machine expected to reach 20 petaflops of performance. That means the system — called Sequoia — will handle a quadrillion mathematical operations per second and run about 10 times faster than today’s top supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was also built by I.B.M.
The United States Department of Energy continues to finance these behemoths, using them to model the decay of our nuclear weapons arsenal. Such modeling is required given the ban on nuclear weapons testing, and as far as we know, the massive computers predict how weapons age just fine. Fingers crossed.
For the United States, the giant computers also give the government an excuse to boast about the country’s high-tech leadership.
The I.B.M. BlueGene designs remain unique in the computing industry. Most large supercomputers are constructed by melding together thousands of standard computer servers. BlueGene, by contrast, relies on custom chips and what amounts to hand-crafted innards. The specialized design caters to the types of operations handled by national labs and other scientific bodies.
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