A new era in computing that will see machines perform at least 1,000 times faster than today’s most powerful supercomputers is almost upon us.
By the end of the decade, exaFLOP computers are predicted to go online heralding a new chapter in scientific discovery.
The United States, China, Japan, the European Union and Russia are all investing millions of dollars in supercomputer research. In February, the EU announced it was doubling investment in research to ?1.2 billion ($1.6 billion). What is an exaFLOP? Computer scientists measure a supercomputer’s performance in FLOPS, an acronym for FLoating Operations per Second, while “exa” is a metric prefix which stands for quintillion (or a billion billion). An exascale computer could perform approximately as many operations per second as 50 million laptops.
The first computer to break through the petaFLOP barrier was IBM’s Roadrunner in 2008. But its reign as the fastest computer in the world didn’t last long, with the Cray Jaguar installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States becoming the quickest with a performance of 1.75 petaFLOPS in 2009.
Today, the crown is held by is Japan’s K Computer developed by Fujitsu, according to TOP500 — a project that tracks trends in high-performance computing.
The machine, installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science, in Kobe, Japan, currently operates at over 10 petaFLOPS. It is more than three times faster than its nearest rival, China’s NUDT YH MPP computer (2.57 petaflops). How big are they? The kind of space that you need is similar to that of a football field. You’re talking about many, many lanes of computer racks and thousands of processors.