Super-Duper Linux Computers

Super-Duper Linux Computers

Summary: A new wave of super-computers with CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics, and Linux, of course, will approach Exabyte speeds by the end of the decade.


Everyone who follows super-computers knows that they run on Linux. Just one look at the latest Top 500 SuperComputer list confirms that. Today 91.8% of all super-computers run Linux. Alas, if you look at the latest list, you'll also see that the U.S. now trails China in the super-computers. IBM's new CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics chips, though, should soon put the U.S. back in the lead.

Today the fastest of the fast computers is the Tianhe-1A Running full-out, it hits a peak performance of 2.57 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second).and cruises along at 563.1 teraflops. To do this, it uses 14,336 Intel Xeon CPUs and 7,168 NVIDIA Tesla GPUs and Linux.

That's impressive. The Tianhe-1A easily races past the Cray XT5 "Jaguar" system at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee. That Cray XTS super-computer is now ranked in second place at 1.75 petaflop/s.

Don't start weeping for the decline of American technology prowess yet, though. IBM's new addition to its POWER7 chipset uses Silicon Integrated Nanophotonics to reach new heights in processor speed. In these chips, light instead of electronics is used for its input/output (I/O )interconnects.. This makes it possible to build faster--much faster--super-computers, and eventually servers and PCs.

The first fruit of this breakthrough in chip design is going into Blue Waters, a joint effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), IBM, and the Great Lakes Consortium for Petascale Computation ( This computer, to quote a friend of mine who works at IBM and was feeling his oats, will "make the Chinese monster look like a digital watch by comparison."

I don't know if will be that fast, but it will be a lot faster. It's expected that Blue Waters will have a peak speed of 10 Petaflops/s, about four times faster than Tianhe-1A. The Chinese, to be sure, won't resting on their laurels. They'll also be working on ever-faster computers.

This new light-based computing, still in its infancy, has potential to reach Exabyte levels of computing by decade's end. Exabyte? That's about 100 times faster than Blue Waters will run in 2011. My buddy, Jason Perlow, talks about what that means in his story, Exaflop computing: Moore's Law isn't dead, It's Moved to Warp Speed.

While the core technology is new, the operating system isn't. Blue Waters designers have already decided that Linux is what the super-duper computer Blue Waters will need. As Blue Waters' deputy project director, William Kramer, explained in the press release: "We looked at the features that will be part of each OS in 2011, not just the features available today."

AIX, IBM's house brand of Unix, was also considered, and while "We determined that either OS could ably meet the requirements for Blue Waters and serve the science and engineering research community," Kramer said, "Linux offered some additional advantages, such as being somewhat more familiar to the research community and offering the potential for NCSA to more directly participate in enhancing the OS."

Although the fundamental technology is ready to go, there is one problem. As Peter Beckman, recently named director of the newly created Exascale Technology and Computing Institute, said in an interview recently, "We [the U.S.] are not producing enough high-quality science and technology Ph.D. students. When we open up a post-doc position for an expert in this particular computer science field, we have to look hard to find people. There is not an overflow of these people, it's a thin group."

That's a serious worry. While we have an operating system, Linux, that works well for super-computing, we still need advanced system designers and programmers to put the operating system and the hardware to its most effective use, Here's hoping we find them.

Topics: CXO, Hardware, IBM, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Waves flag. Go linux!

    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • Agreed

      Linux is doing good work here.
      Michael Alan Goff
  • Way to go!!

    Retired IBM R&D systems software geek and now Linux fanboy.
    a foot in both camps
  • Why is there a shortage of suitable post-doc applicants?!

    ...this is what I find not just worisome but extremely distressing. Without getting political, our education system is not working to acceptable levels.
    • RE: Super-Duper Linux Computers

      @ramjetwiebe <br><br>I has been entirely political here in England as the result of 10 years of New Labour's, NL, policy of manipulating true unemployment figures by encouraging many more young people to stay on for further education and to go to universities to read easy Mickey Mouse, MM, degrees like media studies instead of hard science like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and related Engineering subjects.<br>University education systems have got fat and rich as a result, especially with the subsidies from NL. The economy of many cities has become somewhat dependent on Polytechnics expansion into Universities and the infrastructure required to support students.<br>The Conservative/LibDem coalition now in power has inherited an unaffordable and misdirected educational system. As a result all undergraduates are faced with large increases in University fees in England and we have seen protests and rioting in our streets; not only by those studying for MM degrees but also by those studying for hard degrees.
      a foot in both camps
    • True and ALL politicians are to blame.

  • RE: Super-Duper Linux Computers

    It should also be stated that Blue Waters will not only hit 10 petaflops/s but it will also sustain over 1 petaflop/s. It's that sustained rate that will set it apart from the current systems running today.
  • So where's all the linux tablets that steven said were coming soon?

    Where o where are all the linux tablets? SJVN said they were coming soon.

    Heck even google cant get Android updated in a timely manner.
    • RE: Super-Duper Linux Computers


      My little Android phone works just fine. It was updated when the update was ready. No problem right now. It still is updated more regularly than my wifes Windows 7 system. What is your standard anyway?

      Updates for the sake of updates are a sure recipe for disaster.
      • But thats not what we were told


        We were told open source would lead to higher quality code delivered more rapidly. This hasnt been the case. Likewise, Android was built from the ground up to support multiple device least thats what google said...and yet they struggle to update android to support tablets. Where is the gingerbread man?
    • RE: Super-Duper Linux Computers

      @otaddy Let's keep talking about computers, not toys...
  • RE: Super-Duper Linux Computers

    If they're *currently* screaming for post-doctorate computer programmers, then it's already too late for the next crop of students to go into the field. By the time they slog their way through school to *get* that PhD, the market will be saturated with them, and those kids will get the privilege of working for slave wages like the rest of us suckers.
  • Question is

    What is "suitable" candidate
  • RE: Super-Duper Linux Computers

    More important that "what is a suitable candidate?" might be 'what is a suitable education?'. It's getting harder to find a good school unless you have a pile of cash- or at least a sponsor with a pile of cash. Trying to get an education that will put you in a very high-tech field at an affordable college is getting to be nearly impossible.
    • &quot;Affordable college&quot; is an oxymoron in present-day America.

      <p style="text-align: justify;">@guywayne And we've been giving entirely too much oxy to the well-educated, even-better-financed morons who made it happen.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Go back and look at any period when the US was really creating important things (technical and otherwise), and take a look at the tax structures of the day and the percentage of lobbyist-initiated spending. Something that, when you trace back why major budget items got funded, weren't in response to an identified need so much as to a major corporate beneficiary saying "hey, $DEPARTMENT, if you bought our $WIDGETS and/or hired our consultants, things would be <em>so much better</em>!!!"</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Then compare those tax structures and percentages with what's in place today. See the difference?</p><p style="text-align: justify;">We get what we get programmed to refuse to demand be paid for properly: failed infrastructure, a much narrower scope of innovation, a more economically-imbalanced society than at any time in our history, more political polarization than we've had since 1860, and on and on and on.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">"If you're not paying for it, <em>you're</em> the product" is an increasingly often-heard line in the online world. It applies offline to at least the same degree.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">If it's "<a href="">already too late for the next crop of [Ph.D.] students</a>" as jellabarre commented earlier, is it also "too late" to dig ourselves out of this mess that took 30 years and more to make?</p>
      Jeff Dickey
  • And at the other end of the super-computing spectrum...

    The affordable, portable end we also find *nix:
  • Educational system in the US is being destroyed ON PURPOSE

    Search google for the movie ZEITGEIST.

    It shows you why the statement in the subject is true. This is the reason why the all tech companies are having trouble finding Ph.D's You'll be surprised.