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Europe's fastest computer boots up

The Local · 20 Jul 2012, 07:34

Published: 20 Jul 2012 07:34 GMT+02:00

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The phenomenal processing power is equivalent to three billion people each holding a pocket calculator, each completing one million calculations every second.

This is how IBM likes to represent the performance of their newest supercomputer, which at its three petaflop peak performance (FLOP - Floating Operations Per Second) is the fourth fastest in the world.

Physicists, geophysicists, astronomers, mathematicians, human biologists, engineers and climate researchers from 24 European countries - plus Israel and Turkey - have been promised access to the German supercomputer at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University.

It can be used to model processes as diverse as blood flow, movements in the earth's core, or even the big bang itself.

SuperMUC, which weighs more than 100 tonnes and has the processing power of more than 110,000 PCs, is much in demand - so much so that an international board has been appointed to decide who can use it, wrote Die Welt newspaper on Thursday.

"Several times a year we give out calls for applications and with the number of applications we get it would be between three and seven times overbooked." Arndt Bode, head of the Leibniz Rechenzentrum (LRZ) told the paper.

"Supercomputers are a key to finding the answers to the pressing questions of the 21st Century," German Science and Development Minister Annette Schavan told the paper. She is expected to be at the official opening on Friday.

These questions include challenges Germany is taking very seriously, such as climate change, energy, nutrition, mobility, security and communication. The SuperMUC also has medical applications, such as modelling gene sequencing or highly complex protein structures scientists think may be key to fighting diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

The computer's findings and models will be made visible in a new studio in the LBZ computer centre - so that it will be possible to walk through a 3D model of a human brain or a city of the future, wrote the paper.

Yet the supercomputer's unique water cooling system - the first of its kind in the world - is possibly even more exciting for computer scientists, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper wrote on Wednesday.

It should reduce the total power consumption of the computer by 40 percent, by using water rather than air to remove the heat generated by the computer. The warmed-up water is then piped around the building’s heating system.

Story continues below…

IBM also runs the world's fastest computer, Sequoia, which is five times faster than the German SuperMUC. Housed in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US Energy Ministry, the Sequoia is used for nuclear research and exploring new energy sources.

IBM is currently working on a new generation of quantum computers, which will take processing power to the next level.

The Local/jlb

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:00 July 20, 2012 by C Robert
IBM is an oldest supplier of computers to Germany. In 1889. When German Immigrant Prof Georg Hollerith's son Herman Hollerith invented first Tabulated calculating machine for US Census office that machine very first customer was Germany. This is just continuation of same trend.
13:49 July 20, 2012 by William Thirteen
indeed, IBM also supplied Tabulating machines for the Third Reich.

16:04 July 20, 2012 by zeddriver
I wonder if they could use this new machine to peer into the vast unending darkness of the politicians minds. And maybe tell us why they spend more money than they have and then tell us the citizens that we now need to hand over even more for them to spend.
17:35 July 20, 2012 by quiller
Can this system work out the reason for the Euro screw up and the answer? Because the politicians and economists do not seem to be able to.
23:49 July 20, 2012 by Mark S.
It would be interesting to know what is "unique" about the water cooling system in this computer. Water cooled computers are hardly a new idea -- in the US, we have had commercially available components for water cooling your PC for at least a decade.

Could it be that they think heating the building with the waste heat is a new idea? That is also old news.

Cooling the computer with water AND using the waste heat to heat the building? Maybe -- I haven't seen that particular configuration before, but it is hardly an amazing invention.

At one time, the announcement of a faster supercomputer was really interesting. It meant the development of new technology. Now it is just a matter of "We made an even BIGGER pile of standard PCs".
10:58 July 21, 2012 by michael4096
@Mark - I also wondered about the 'unique' cooling system. I was using a water cooled IBM mainframe in the 1970s where the waste heat was reused.

Don't get confused between this machine and a pile of PCs. That is just a measurement dreamt up by media to explain things. It's true that the processors are pretty much standard components but the advances are all in the interconnect capabilities. Getting any one of the ~half-million cores to talk to any other at gigabyte speeds is really hard.
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