The U.S. Department of Energy has commissioned IBM to build a new supercomputer that is able to run at up to 20 petaflops, or about 20,000 trillion calculations per second. According to Reuters this is equivalent to 2 million laptops.
The new machine, named Sequoia, is the successor to the Energy Department's current IBM supercomputer Roadrunner, located at their Los Alamos National Laboratory. Roadrunner is currently the world's fastest supercomputer with a speed of about 1.026 petaflops.
Sequoia is to be based on IBM's Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, which is currently in development but will have a similar design to its predecessor Blue Gene/P. The energy efficient supercomputer will contain 96 server racks over 3,400 square feet, use IBM's Power processors and have 1.6 petabytes of main memory. It will use 6 megawatts of power a year, equivalent to that consumed by 500 average homes. The cost is expected to run into hundreds of millions of dollars, although IBM were picked from a short list of 5 bidders as their costs were slightly lower, their computer more energy efficient, and they offered a better backup plan in case anything goes wrong.
The supercomputer will be installed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and used for a variety of tasks, including managing America's nuclear arsenal and research tasks. Sequoia will perform simulations of the ageing nuclear weapons to help determine if they are still stable and safe to use and will be used for complex research into areas including the human genome, astronomy and climate change.
Sequoia is expected to be ready in 2011 or 2012 and while it is being built in Rochester, Minnesota, a smaller IBM supercomputer, named Dawn, will be used by the laboratory to develop the programs that will run on it. Dawn should be ready by April and will perform at 500 teraflops.