- Computers & Software
Miracle named MIRA: IBM’s Forthcoming Supercomputer
The 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, named "Mira", will be operational in 2012 and made available to scientists from industry, academia and government research facilities around the world. If all Americans, that is 300-plus million people, do one calculation per second, they will take a whole year to do what this machine can do in a second. Mira, that’s the name of this super-machine.
The term "supercomputer" was coined in 1929 by the New York World newspaper, referring to tabulators manufactured by IBM. Since that time, supercomputers have become indispensable tools in cutting edge scientific research. The effort to build the fastest supercomputer has become a source of national pride as these machines are valued for their ability to solve problems critical to national interests in areas like defense, energy, and finance. Supercomputing technology also finds its way into mainstream business; oil and gas companies use it to find reservoirs and Wall Street traders use it for the quickest automated trades.
The first supercomputer to make a sustained 100 gigaflops was the Quadrics APE100 in 1991 but it was eclipsed just a few months later; as in the 90s supercomputers leapfrogged each other every year (until the market completely collapsed and most of the supercomputer companies folded around the middle to late 90s).
The first teraflop machine was the Intel ASCI/Red built for Sandia labs by Intel in 1996; capable of 1.4 teraflops in its original configuration (using 4510 Pentium Pro processors at 200 mhz). It was later rebuilt in 1999 using 9280 specially modified Pentium IIs at 300 mhz, and achieved 2.4 teraflops. It cost something like $25 million, and was the fastest supercomputer in the world for over 3 years.
MIRA: IBM's Latest Venture
Mira is the supercomputer IBM Corp is building for US department of energy’s Argonne National Lab. IBM says, Mira will make more than 10 quadrillion (1 quadrillion = 1,000 trillion) calculations a second, four times faster than China’s Tianhe-1A, currently considered the fastest.
Argonne also envisions Mira as a stepping stone to exascale-class computers that will be faster than petascale-class computers by a factor of a thousand. Exascale computing has the potential to address a class of highly complex workloads that have been beyond our reach, not just due to their sheer size, but because of their inherent uncertainties and unpredictability -- challenges like understanding the impacts of regional climate change and the design of safe nuclear reactors.
Mira will offer an opportunity for scientists to become more familiar with the capabilities an exascale machine will offer and the programming changes it will require. For example, scientists will have to scale their current computer codes to more than 750,000 individual computing cores, providing them preliminary experience on how scalability might be achieved on an exascale-class system with 100s of millions of cores.
Named after the Latin root to wonder or marvel, Mira is expected to cost roughly $50 million, according to reports. Argonne anticipates that the new supercomputer will be one of the fastest and most energy efficient supercomputers in the world after its construction and installation are complete thanks to a combination of innovative new chip designs and extremely efficient water cooling.
MIRA Means Business
Mira will mean a lot to business, says Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group in Beaverton, Oregon: “Wall Street will use those computers to analyze their portfolios to see what will happen if interest rates do this or that. Pharmaceutical retailers can use them to track cold and flu season, so they know how much tissue or Nyquil to stock in particular stores at particular times.”
In fact, IBM sees Mira -- which it expects to help design advanced electric car batteries and similar energy-efficient technologies, among others -- as a stepping stone to its next generation of supercomputers that will be 1,000 times faster.
Everything comes with a price, they say, and there is a hazard that users of such supercomputers often confront: huge electricity bills. IBM declined to disclose the estimated amount users of Mira will incur.
MIRA: Multiple Benefits
Mira is expected to make a significant impact across many sectors.
Medicine: With existing supercomputers, running a simulation of how a beating human heart reacts to a new drug takes 2 years. Mira would cut the wait time down to 2 days.
Retail: Pharmaceutical companies can track cold and flu seasons in different regions so that they can prepare for rise in demand in a particular place during a period.
Stock Markets: It will make the calculation of the impact of interest rates on stock exchanges with much more accuracy.
Weather & Tremors: Mira will help in early seismic forecasts. The supercomputer will also help scientists understand bulk properties of water better -- crucial for estimating damage floods could cause.
Today’s Fastest 5 Supercomputers
What about today's fastest supercomputers? Petaflops... in 1976 it was 250 million flops, now its 2.5 quadrillion flops.
The Chinese are claiming that a machine called Tianhe-1A that runs at 2.57 petaflops is the fastest today, but from reviewing the architecture, a lot of folks don't believe that number. Otherwise, it's Cray XT5 that's the fastest, with their Jaguar system, at 1.75 petaflops.
Tianhe-1A (2.57 petaflops)
The Cray XT5 (1.75 petaflops)
Nebulae (1.27 petaflops)
Tsubame 2.0 (1.19 petaflops)
Hopper (1.05 petaflops)