The Top500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers was just released. This list is compiled and published twice a year by a group of independent scientists in the US and Europe. IBM was very prominent in the Top500 list, with 6 out of the top 10 systems and 259 out of the top 500 systems. We are really proud of this achievement.
Why is supercomputing so important despite its being a relatively small portion of the IT industry?
As it happens, this question was dealt with directly in a report to the President of the United States released last week by PITAC, the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, titled Computational Science: Ensuring America's Competitiveness. To quote from the PITAC report, "Computational science is now indispensable to the solution of complex problems in every sector, from traditional science and engineering domains to such key areas as national security, public health, and economic innovation." The PITAC report concludes that while the potential benefits of supercomputing and its applications are enormous, the challenges are huge, and it makes specific recommendations to Federal government R&D agencies and universities.
As information technologies have continued their explosive advances, we can now build supercomputing systems of such huge capacities that they enable us do a much better job with existing applications, and open the door to whole new application areas. For example, we can significantly reduce the time it takes to design a car or an airplane, and improve its safety and quality through the simulations now made possible by these powerful systems. Weather prediction has gotten much, much better, as has the ability to find and recover oil.
Perhaps nothing better shows the importance of supercomputing to society than the massive transformations they are enabling in Health care and Life Sciences, especially with the rise of the new discipline of Bioinformatics. Whole new applications are emerging, from the use of genomics information to personalize patient care, to mapping the human brain so we can better understand the causes of psychiatric disorders like autism, schizophrenia and depression.
A very promising growth area for supercomputing is in business. Businesses and other institutions now have the ability to gather large amounts of information in real time, and analyze it to make better decisions, anticipate problems, and optimize their performance. In response to this emerging opportunity, last year IBM launched the Center for Business Optimization to help our customers take advantage of the increasingly affordable and powerful supercomputers to manage much more complex and unpredictable business and societal problems.
I believe that our supercomputing leadership, as exemplified by the Top500 list, is a result of major innovations in technology and architecture combined with a sound business model that leverages standard, high-volume components to build scalable computing families. The physical world that supercomputing applications typically simulate and analyze is very diverse, and that is why you need different kinds of mathematical approaches and computer architectures for different kinds of problems. 50 of the systems in the Top500 list are based on the pSeries family, which use our most powerful microprocessors. 193 of the systems are based on scalable Linux clusters and standard microprocessors, mostly based on the Intel architecture although the most powerful cluster in the world and top supercomputer in Europe is MareNostrum in Barcelona based on the PowerBlades, which I wrote about last week. Finally, 16 of the supercomputers are based on Blue Gene, which is optimized for very high parallelism, bandwidth, and the ability to handle huge amounts of data, using low power consumption versions of our Power architecture. And, in the near future, we will incorporate the Cell processor into our supercomputing families for the kinds of compute-intensive requirements of highly visual, interactive applications like game players.
I have been very involved with IBM's supercomputing efforts, as well as with the supercomputing community around the world for a long time now, so seeing how fast the field is advancing, as well as IBM's leadership in it, is very gratifying to me. We should all feel very good about the progress made to date, but, as the PITAC report reminds us, we have a lot of work ahead of us.