Saturday, February 04, 2012

Forget the Digital Divide and think about the Computational Divide

Scientists hope the next generation of supercomputers will carry out a million trillion operations per second. But first they must change the way the machines are built and run.
I quote from Science magazine:

Using real climate data, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California recently ran a simulation on one of the world's most powerful supercomputers that replicated the number of tropical storms and hurricanes that had occurred over the past 30 years. Its accuracy was a landmark for computer modeling of global climate. But Michael Wehner and his LBNL colleagues have their eyes on a much bigger prize: understanding whether an increase in cloud cover from rising temperatures would retard climate change by reflecting more light back into space, or accelerate it by trapping additional heat close to Earth. 
To succeed, Wehner must be able to model individual cloud systems on a global scale. To do that, he will need supercomputers more powerful than any yet designed. These so-called exascale computers would be capable of carrying out 1018 floating point operations per second, or an exaflop. That's nearly 100 times more powerful than today's biggest supercomputer, Japan's “K Computer,” which achieves 11.3 petaflops (1015 flops) (see graph), and 1000 times faster than the Hopper supercomputer used by Wehner and his colleagues. The United States now appears poised to reach for the exascale, as do China, Japan, Russia, India, and the European Union.
Available Supercomputing Power 

A teraflop is one trillion floating point operations per second.

The term "digital divide" was common a few years ago, typically focusing on the difference in penetration of personal computers or telephones in poor communities versus affluent communities. Sometimes the term was used to describe the situation within a country, sometimes between countries.

I come from a very long computer background, and I have suggested that there remains a very large divide between poor countries and affluent countries in terms of high end computer power. How many developing countries (other than China) would you have to put together to get 10,000 teraflops of supercomputer power?

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