World's most efficient supercomputer gets to work

Satellite launches are a noisy affair especially for the satellite atop the rocket. Vibration and noise, unless compensated, could render it useless before it reaches orbit so researchers spend a lot of time on complex computer simulations that help them insulate the delicate craft. Now those simulations are about to get much more accurate thanks to a new supercomputer that began work this week in Japan.

The Fujitsu FX1 computer was inaugurated on Wednesday by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It has 3,008 nodes each of which has a 4-core Sparc64 VII microprocessor. The machine has 94 terabytes of memory and a theoretical peak performance of 120 teraflops (a teraflops is a trillion floating point operations per second).

Running the standard Linpack benchmark it achieved a peak performance of 110.6 teraflops, which not only ranks it the most powerful machine in Japan but the most efficient supercomputer in the world. Its peak performance represents 91.2 percent of its theoretical performance and outranks the previous record holder, a machine at the Leibniz Rechenzentrum in Munich. Ranked below the German computer is another JAXA machine.

Fujitsu attributes the high efficiency to high-performance hardware, the Parallelnavi middleware used in the system and the expertise of the system builders.

"Performance is about 15 times higher than the system we had before," said Kozo Fujii, director of JAXA's Engineering Digital Innovation Center, as he showed reporters around the new supercomputer, which is located at JAXA's Chofu Space Center in western Tokyo.

Two rows of computer racks make up the main system and a third row alongside is a second less powerful FX1 machine. In an adjoining room sits an NEC SX-9 vector computer for running specialized tasks and the storage that augments the entire system.

Altogether a petabyte of disk storage space and 10 petabytes of tape storage are connected to the system (a petabyte is a million gigabytes).

And between the lot there are lots of big, industrial air conditioners to keep the room cool and extract the heat generated by this mass of hardware.

JAXA intends to put it to work on simulations such as the acoustic noise experienced by a satellite at launch, said Fujii.

"There is a wide band of frequencies and usually the peak frequencies are located between 60 and 100 Hertz and we can capture at that level of frequencies. But hopefully [with the new computer] we can capture frequencies of 150 or 200Hz that are difficult for the current computer."

The machine is being leased by JAXA from Fujitsu at a cost of ¥10 billion (US$101 million) over five years. In addition to its own work it will be used by some private companies as part of joint-research projects.

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