Imagine if someone gives you a task to sort out the data of people in millions and how much time you alone would take to complete the task, probably some months or some weeks but if you get the help of your friends then that task won’t take that much time.
Similarly, computers have these types of assignments to do now and it would take years to deal with such an amount of data with a normal single computer. If we divide this work into multiple computers relatively we get our task done in less time. Instead of dividing the task if we hand over the assignment to a monster machine, it can solve the problem in a matter of seconds, and these monster machines are called supercomputers.
In this article, we’ll discuss what a super computer is, how they work, their examples, and the fastest supercomputer in the world.
What is Supercomputer?
It is a powerful giant computer that can perform millions of calculations within milliseconds. Super Computers are used in a wide range of applications such as scientific research, nuclear simulations, exploring the space, weather monitoring, image processing on a large scale, and in many other likewise domains.
Supercomputers are generally used in high-performance tasks where normal computers can’t perform well because dealing with big data using a normal personal computer is next to impossible. Personal computers have low specifications like 32 or 64 GB of RAM, and 8, 16, or 32 cores CPU whereas supercomputers have all these in millions or probably in billions and all these.
Personal computers work on the serial processing method and use instant switching for multitasking whereas super computers work on a parallel processing method and can perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Normally we calculate our personal computer or our phone’s speed in MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second) whereas supercomputers’ speed is calculated in petaflops (Floating Operations Per Second). FLOPS is the benchmark for the performance of supercomputers.
The fastest supercomputer in the world has a massive performance of 440+ petaflops which is a huge number and can perform any type of complex calculation. These are made by combining millions of CPUs and other hardware thus they need more power to operate and also that hardware occupies a lot more space.
Science Behind These Giant Machines (How Super Computer Works)
A supercomputer is a large collection of personal computer processors like Intell & AMD CPUs that are connected through multiple networking topologies to produce the maximum output thus it is called large-scale computing. Supercomputers are neither available in the market for sale nor are built in a day, many things are considered while building a supercomputer. Supercomputers are built on demand and their building process takes years to complete. Connecting multiple processors is not a simple task, many complex network cluster topologies are used.
You probably think, why these commercial processors are used in supercomputers? Well, its answer is very simple, commercial CPUs are cheap, made in bulk, and easily available in the market they are evaluated and ready to use whereas the new invention takes time, money, and effort to replace the available technology. So commercial processors are the best option to use in building a supercomputer. We normally use HDDs & SSD storage drives on our desktops or laptops while supercomputers deal with petabytes of data that’s why explicit data centers are made to feed them the data and collect the results in return.
Supercomputers are bigger enough to fit in a large warehouse, consume energy in megawatts, and also produce heat on a large scale. Hundreds of technicians, engineers, and experts are hired to maintain the supercomputer, dedicated teams are deployed for each operation like power management, cooling system, operating system & software, and resources management. To utilize the resources efficiently supercomputers are mostly operated with a highly customized Linux OS.
History of Super Computers
The LARC (Livermore Atomic Research Computer) is considered the first supercomputer in history and was made in 1960 by UNIVAC for design and simulations. Earlier in 1955, a US national laboratory named Los Alamos National Laboratory demanded a 100 times faster computer than all existing computers later the demand was fulfilled by IBM 7030 Stretch which also falls in the early supercomputers category.
Later at that time, IBM 7950 Harvest was made for cryptographic reasons and that could decrypt the data without the key. In the early 1960s, an English computer scientist Tom Kilburn the Atlas supercomputer for the University of Manchester. Atlas supercomputer bought the concept of time-sharing in supercomputers.
In 1964, an American supercomputer architect & electrical engineer Seymour Cray made the CDC 6600 supercomputer which was faster than all previous variants of computers, that’s why it is known as the first supercomputer. Silicon transistors were used in CDC 6600 to achieve more speed and they also produce less heat. Later in 1972, Mr. Cray founded his own company named Cray Research, and in 1976, he produced the most successful Cray supercomputer model Cray 1 which was capable of delivering the speed of 80 MHz and was first installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In 1985, the successor of the Cray 1 supercomputer was released named Cray 2 which came with many features like 8 CPUs and a liquid cooling system. It was the first supercomputer to break the gigaflop barrier and achieved a speed of 1.9 gigaFLOPs.
To compete with the Cray 1 supercomputer, massively parallel computers were invented and the first model was ILLIAC IV built in the 1970s. It was designed to connect and use 256 processors and was supposed to deliver 1 gigaFLOP but due to some issues it couldn’t be achieved, its first build was released with only 64 processors and it was capable of delivering 200 MFLOPS whereas Cray 1 delivered 250 MFLOPS. Later in 1982, The Osaka University of Japan built a supercomputer named LINKS 1 for rendering 3D graphics. LINKS 1 used this massively parallel design concept and used 512 processors. Many supercomputers were produced after the 1990s like VPP500 in 1992, The Numerical Wind tunnel, Hitachi SR2201, Intel Paragon, and this never-ending list goes on.
Examples of Super Computer
Here is the list of the top ten supercomputers arranged by speed in ascending order.
Applications of Super Computer
Supercomputers are much more powerful and can’t be used for normal tasks but they are extremely useful in high computation-required projects like launching a satellite, exploring space, and nuclear simulations. Supercomputers are ultimately beneficial in healthcare systems, IBM Summit and other supercomputers were utilized in research and making of vaccines against the recently spread viral disease COVID-19. If these supercomputers didn’t exist we won’t be able to see vaccines and probably the pandemic last for many years. Weather forecasting is another most useful application of supercomputers that benefits all mankind, supercomputers are used to calculate the movement of clouds, storms, and tornados and predict their pattern and warn us days before the impact.
The world is adopting artificial intelligence technologies which are dependent on machine learning. Machine learning and deep learning require more and more computational power to be trained and perform efficiently. Many scientists, researchers, and students use supercomputers to finalize their projects which would take years to complete on a personal computer.
These giant computers are contributing to making our lives better, saving years of research, and are useful in every field of life. They can boost the economy and enable us to understand the complex structures and patterns of nature. Supercomputers are extremely useful but on the other side, they can also affect the environment negatively. These giant computers consume electricity in megawatts and also produce heat on a large scale & if the electricity is generated using fossil fuels it will multiply all the damages.
E-waste is another major problem that also contributes when they are no longer operational. To summarize, all these issues have solutions but there is no absolute alternative available for supercomputers. If all these factors are considered while building a supercomputer I think it would be a great modern supercomputer.