Monday, September 04, 2006

Super computer!

JAMSTEC's new supercomputer was switched on today, and there was a seminar introducing it. It certainly seems super to me! It's an SGI ALTIX 4700, with a total of 1280 dual-core processors. That linked press release talks about availability from late August, so having it up and running by the 4th September is very impressive indeed! Assuming I've done my sums right (not by any means a sure thing) it would slot in somewhere in the top 30 of the latest top500 list. It'll be further down the pecking order by the time the next list is drawn up, of course.

The only drawback I can think of is that it may prove rather more popular than the Compaq Alpha which it replaces (there must be someone's law: "all computers are the same speed", or perhaps: "jobs expand to fill the CPU available"). The Compaq Alpha was our favourite computer as it was good for highly parallel work (EnKF) but relatively lightly used, being a rather different architecture from the Earth Simulator which most code development here is aimed at. However, as well as the Altix there is also a new 24-processor SX8 which was just switched on today too, which may (I hope) be more popular for those who are more focussed on sharing code with the ES.

These two JAMSTEC computers are separately managed from the Earth Simulator, which I understand is also due for an upgrade in a few years (this is still officially in the planning stage, with funding not yet formally agreed).

I've grumbled a bit in the past about some of the drawbacks of working in Japan, so it's important also to give credit where it's due - the facilities here are in many ways second to none. The entire UK doesn't even have anything to compete with this Altix, let alone the ES. And this is all for climate science - I'm not even counting the 10 petaflop Simulator 2 which is likely to target other basic research, perhaps biological. Such a consistently high level of investment in basic research can't help but enhance Japan's image as a tempting destination for foreign scientists looking to expand their horizons...

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