The word "supercomputer" probably conjures images of massive data centers attended by white-coat technicians, probably working on some secret government project like nuclear simulations. In fact, supercomputers come in all shapes and sizes. The definition of supercomputer changes all the time; in fact the supercomputer of 5 years ago may be eclipsed by the "regular" computer you have on your desk right now.
I view supercomputers as the proving ground for tomorrow's mainstream computers. Like concept cars and formula 1 racers, they may be a bit exotic a times, but many of the technologies that start off at the high end will trickle down into everyday workhorse machines.
Take multiple CPUs for example. For many years, personal computers had one processor, and manufacturers like Intel and AMD tried to increase performance by making that one processor run faster and faster each year. Eventually though, computer scientists realized that there was some kind of limit to how long you could keep doing that. The limit is caused by mundane reasons like heat dissipation and the physics of very small circuits. That's why they turned to to putting multiple CPU cores into one computer.
The first multi-core systems were big supercomputers, but today it's hard to find a computer that doesn't have 2 CPUs (dual-core), and the number of cores in mainstream computers is likely to rapidly grow as time goes on.
So what's next? The SC07 will offer a glimpse into that future.