Gaming technology helps finding oil

With the help of an IBM supercomputer, University of Houston (UH) seismic researchers are using video game technology to help them more effectively target oil reserves. IBM has installed a Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.) system 'that represents a new generation of powerful supercomputers with substantial parallelism built in at the core level.' The Cell chip, which was developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, was originally designed for products such as the Sony PlayStation3. But it also can deliver supercomputing performance for data-intensive processing like seismic exploration. And according to UH, the Cell chip could soon have 34 core units instead of 9 today. But this not confirmed by other sources, so let's wait to see if there is some truth behind this rumor.

With the help of an IBM supercomputer, University of Houston (UH) seismic researchers are using video game technology to help them more effectively target oil reserves. IBM has installed a Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.) system 'that represents a new generation of powerful supercomputers with substantial parallelism built in at the core level.' The Cell chip, which was developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, was originally designed for products such as the Sony PlayStation3. But it also can deliver supercomputing performance for data-intensive processing like seismic exploration. And according to UH, the Cell chip could soon have 34 core units instead of 9 today. But this not confirmed by other sources, so let's wait to see if there is some truth behind this rumor.

The Cell Broadband Engine system diagram

You can see above the latest Cell Broadband Engine system diagram. "The system includes a Power Architecture processor and eight attached processor elements; an internal high-performance element interconnect bus integrates the processor elements." (Credit:IBM)

This diagram was extracted from an IBM technical paper published in IEEE Computer under the name "An Open Source Environment for Cell Broadband Engine System Software" (Volume 40, Number 6, Pages 37-47, June 2007). Here are two links to the abstract and to the full paper (PDF format, 11 pages, 1.24 MB).

The UH news release also contains a scoop. "Originally designed for use in consumer-based computer entertainment products such as the Sony PlayStation3, the Cell/B.E. processor is not limited to game systems and delivers supercomputing performance on a single chip through the architecture of the Cell Synergistic Processor Unit (SPU) for data-intensive processing like that found in cryptography, media, matrix operations and certain scientific applications. Current Cell/B.E. processors have up to nine individual core units per chip and future plans envisage having 34 core units."

The Cell Synergistic Processor Unit (SPU)

Above is a diagram showing the The Cell Synergistic Processor Unit (SPU) (Credit: IBM on this page). "The SPU architecture was built with the goals to provide a large register file, simplify code generation, reduce the size and power consumption by unifying resources, and simplify decode and dispatch. These goals were achieved by architecting a novel SIMD-based architecture with 32 bit wide instructions encoding a 3-operand instruction format. Designing a new instruction set architecture (ISA) allowed us to streamline the instruction side, and provide 7-bit register operand specifiers to directly address 128 registers from all instructions using a single pervasive SIMD computation approach for both scalar and vector data. In this approach, a unified 128 entry 128bit SIMD register file provides scalar, condition and address operands, such as for conditional operations, branches, and memory accesses."

Besides this unconfirmed information, the UH news release looks like it has been written by IBM. "The IBM team’s astute technical vision, impressive capability and business acumen not only recognize the breadth and depth of the E&P challenge, but also that partnering and collaborating with M-OSRP [Mission-Oriented Seismic Research Program] and its petroleum industry sponsors provides a reasonable chance of contributing toward an effective and comprehensive response," said Arthur Weglein, [Professor of Physics at UH and Director of M-OSRP]. "The key responsibility of our group is to educate and mentor graduate students to become the next generation of scientific research leaders while addressing innate seismic algorithmic assumption violation and failure. Our research purpose is to provide new, high-impact seismic capability, methods and algorithms -- the 'what to compute.' However, many of our algorithms are extremely computer intensive and their new level of effectiveness requires a matching new computing vision and capability."

For more information, you can look at these three resources.

Sources: University of Houston news release, September 19, 2007; and various websites

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