Supercomputer visualized

Technology review – What are supercomputers?

As we know, computers are digital and electronic programmable machines for processing, storing and displaying information.

The term “computer” once meant a person who does calculations but now, an automated machinery designed to respond to a specific set of instructions accordingly and can execute a prerecorded list of instructions.

They have made our lives easier and productive, giving way for a more economical growth and technological innovation.

Computers are used (then and now) in various sectors such as education, medicine, finance, transport, business and e-commerce, architecture, and many more.

Because of their essentiality, they have been pushed to the edge of speed and performance, aiming to do things ordinary to extraordinary, thus, paving the way to a more ambitious technological feat —— the creation of the so called, “SUPERCOMPUTERS…”

Tl; dr;

Supercomputers are extremely powerful computers that have enormous computing power, allowing them to work on thousands and thousands of calculations compared to ordinary computers. Also, they are ultimately suitable for testing and developing complicated algorithms or calculation formulas.

In the near future, supercomputers will be implemented to analyze air pollution, research renewable energy sources, and analyzing car sensor data and cameras on board cars, which can further develop autonomous cars.

Supercomputers: The most powerful

The Summit supercomputer

Historically, supercomputers are closely associated with Seymour Cray.

Recognized as the “Father of Supercomputing,” he designed the first officially designated supercomputers for Control Data in the late 1960s and his works remain to be the cornerstone that modern supercomputers still based upon, until now.

Having blazing speed, supercomputers are found in research facilities, government agencies and businesses performing mathematical calculations as well as collating, collecting, analyzing, and categorizing data.

Few of their uses include delving into the patterns of protein folding, uncovering the origins of the universe, understanding earthquakes, mapping the blood stream, modelling swine flu, forecasting the weather, etc.

Some statistics

TOP500.org also revealed that as of June 2019 as well, the most powerful supercomputer is Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, utilizing well over 2 million computer cores. Summit is aimed in the fields of energy, artificial intelligence, and human health research.

Supercomputer benchmark

Supercomputers consist of tens of thousands of processors that can perform billions and trillions of calculations per second. Thus, enabling them to have high-performance computing.

They employ a kind of computer processing so complex that it can’t be masters with just using customary all-purpose computers. These extraordinary devices have been traditionally used for scientific and engineering applications, handling very large databases or doing a great amount of computation or both.

The computing performance of a supercomputer is measured in FLOPS (Floating-point Operations PerSecond) instead of MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second).

The largest, most powerful supercomputers are multiple computers that perform parallel processing. There are two parallel processing approaches in general: symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) and massively parallel processing (MPP).

In the world, there are now hundreds of supercomputers.

According to a business data platform Statista, that as of June 2019, 219 of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers were located in China, a figure which nearly doubled that of its nearest competitor, the United States, which accounted for an additional 116 supercomputers.Together, the two nations account for around two-thirds of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.”

Supercomputer possessed by countries

Characteristics

Supercomputers:

  • Can support more than a hundred users at a time;
  • Can handle massive amounts of calculations beyond the human capabilities;
  • Can be accessed by many individuals at the same time; and
  • Are the most expensive computers ever made.

Features

Supercomputers:

  • Have more than 1 CPU (Central Processing Unit);
  • Can support extremely high computation speed of CPUs;
  • Can operate on pairs of lists of numbers instead of pairs of numbers; and
  • Were initially used in applications related to national security, nuclear weapon design, and cryptography.

Uses

Supercomputers:

  • Are not used for everyday tasks due to their superiority;
  • Are needed by businesses to analyze data collected from their cash registers to help control inventory or spot market trends;
  • Help climatologists predict weather patterns of hurricanes and tornado strikes;
  • Help physicists simulate the formation of the first galaxy and the creation of stars from cosmic dust and gas;
  • Help geophysicists, predict how earthquake waves will travel both locally and globally;
  • Are useful for modelling the nervous system;
  • Help unravel the structure of swine flu;
  • Create better simulations of nuclear explosions away from real-world nuke testing;
  • Design renewable energy facilities and testing new materials for solar cells;
  • Develop highly complex encryption technologies and defense measures against cyber attacks;
  • Efficiently manage traffic infrastructures; and
  • Help researchers find better ways to combat auto-immune diseases, cancer or diabetes.

Summary

Supercomputers are increasingly becoming useful in major industries, tech companies, and countries around the globe.

Numerous research predict that by 2021 supercomputers are expected to be able to compute on an “exa” scale, meaning one quintillion computer operations per second.

By Tuan Nguyen

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