U.S. IBM supercomputer is world's fastest: Does it matter?

U.S. IBM supercomputer is world's fastest: Does it matter?

Summary: In a world where supercomputers are an expensive commodity, shouldn't the focus be on the scientists rather than the tools?


IBM's "Sequoia" has taken the crown as the world's fastest supercomputer after achieving 16.32 petaflops.

It's the first time the U.S. has won the top spot since it was beaten by China two years ago, according to the BBC.

Sequoia will be used to carry out simulations as part of efforts to work out how to prolong the life of nuclear weapons. Nice to know the U.S. is still committed to nuclear proliferation by using its fastest supercomputer to actively keep older nuclear weapons going.

(I imagine it'll also be used by the laboratory lackeys to calculate how much student debt they've racked up.)

The supercomputer is 1.55 times faster than the Japanese Fujitsu model that landed in second place. It also has less than half the number of CPUs than IBM's number-crunching behemoth.

At the end of the day, does it really matter? The race for the supercomputer king seems to switch between the U.S. and Asia on an almost year-by-year basis. The back-and-forth between the two continents will no doubt continue on for years to come.

It's not the computing power that matters: it's the human capital. In a global environment where a U.S. scientist can rent access to an Asian supercomputer, it doesn't particularly matter which country boasts the top supercomputer.

Ultimately it's about where the people who know how to use these machines are. The scientists, the researchers, the meteorologists, astrologists: the list goes on.

The U.S. may claim home to some the world's top scientists, just as China has for two non-consecutive years claimed the world's fastest computer.

At the end of the day: supercomputers are just tools.

Image credit: IBM/Top500.


Topics: CXO, IBM

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  • Does it matter? Yes.

    Does it matter that the IBM supercomputer is one and a half times faster than the Fujitsu? Yes. Yes it does matter. Because the simulations needing that level of speed and performance require it.

    Does it matter that the top spot fluctuates from Asia to the US on a fairly regular basis or that the computer was made by IBM or Fujitsu? No. No, it does not matter at all. That's the wrong question to ask.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Yes. Hand China calculations needed for better nuclera wepons.

      I'm sure that they will not even look at them.....
      • Fujitsu is a Japanese corporation, not a Chinese corporation

        And Sequoia will be replacing Blue Gene/L and ASC Purple. And, the data from Sequoia would not be terribly pertinent to Chinese stockpile.

        But, point well taken. Nations should do their best to maintain a technological advantage. This is merely a different way of re-articulating my point: Namely: it does not matter which company produces the fastest computer as long as that computer meets the needs of their client.
        Your Non Advocate
    • Eating your own words?

      I am pretty certain few days ago you said supercomputers do not matter.
      • When?

        I am certain that I did not. I may have stated that, in the rarified air of supercomputers that volume shipments are low and overall marketshare is negligble. I may even have stated that the underlying application or OS is unimportant. Enjoy eating your own words there.
        Your Non Advocate
      • I appologize, it was not you.

        The genius who said supercomps do not matter was WeilErz.
  • Feh

    There was a time when "world's fastest supercomputer" represented advancements in microelectronics or system architecture. Now it's pretty much down to who can lash the biggest number of blades together in a room.
    Robert Hahn
    • Until someone...

      ... discovers how to circunvect the nano phisics to pack more in a nano space, or the phisics to use tera hertz in the sync clock or the use of qbits or ... (imagination)
  • Top tools attract top scientists.

    CERN vs FERMILAB: Which geographical region has the top particle and theoretical physicists - Europe or North America?

    You need the tools first, Zack, before you get the scientists. Remember the "old" adage: If you build it, he will come!
    • U.S. IBM supercomputer is world's fastest: Does it matter?

      and if you don't have the tools, build it! that is the reason why the us is far more advanced than the rest of the world. the indians, the japanese, the chinese, and the rest of the pacific rim countries are playing the western playbook in their quest to better their lives ... supercomputing technology is not just lashing together hodgepodge of components (hardware and software) to get the needed computing power, it is the technology required to advance tool making to the next level ...
  • U.S. IBM supercomputer is world's fastest: Does it matter?

    I like how neat and pretty the wiring is in that server room. Lets see how long that lasts.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • astrologists

    astrologists? - excuse me !!! Since when did an Astrologer need access to a Supercomputer to make stuff up ?
    • Or maybe the real-time stellar evolution model

      Hey, for all we know, the Chinese are using their Zodiac to pick the best times to attack. Or they need to know when the next Year of the Tiger is so they can stop spying on Mickelson.
      Robert Hahn
  • Thanks to this achievement...

    The next version of WoW will feature 20% less lag!
  • astrologist vs astronomer (only one of which is a scientist)

    i`m not an english native speaker, so i might be mistaken, but it seems than "astrologer" refers to person who practces astrology, which is NOT astronomy/astrophysics.
    since astrology is based on a myhtical set of rater arbitrary rules cocerning zodiac-siigns and so on, astrologists would not have a use for a supercomputer in the first place.
    moreover, i think you`d agree that suoercomputers schould be reserved for real scientists, such as astromers.
    • Your command of the English language is quite sufficient

      ... you are correct. Astrology does pertain to the study of zodiac signs, and is typically not considered a "science" requiring the use of supercomputers.
      • funny

        that this obvious mistake is still there. I am starting to wonder if Zack actually meant astrology. If this is the case, I am going to stop reading anything he writes.
      • Requires

        It is hard to predict the future ;D
  • Not for me

    I'd like a faster PC/Mac. They're getting waaaaaaayyyyyy behind.
  • Priorities...

    "Sequoia will be used to carry out simulations as part of efforts to work out how to prolong the life of nuclear weapons."

    Oh good. The economy is f****** but at least we know we'll always have weapons that can literally end all life on the planet.
    We've got our priorities in order. Breathe a sigh of relief.

    F***** tired of the people in this world.