The human brain is an extremely powerful organ. But unfortunately, it is not able to cope with the tasks of instant processing of huge amounts of data and complex calculations. And even an ordinary personal computer (PC) will not help in such cases, because it is already the level of supercomputers. What are such devices, what features do they have and where are they used? You will learn about all this from the material we have prepared.
How a supercomputer differs from an ordinary PC
A supercomputer (number cruncher) is a specialised computing machine, which by its technical parameters (dimensions, power, power consumption) significantly exceeds an ordinary PC. In general, the term "supercomputer" should be understood as a whole complex of server computers, which are connected to each other and work in parallel through a high-speed network. Such equipment may be located in the same room or at a certain distance from each other. But in both cases, the capacity of a large network of equipment is summarised in order to process a large amount of information in parallel.
The performance of supercomputers is measured in special units — flops (FLOPS — FLoating-point Operations Per Second). The value shows the number of floating-point number calculations that are performed every second. At first, megaflops, which measure a million operations per second, were used to calculate the performance of the number cruncher. But as the power of the equipment grew, we switched to petaflops, which measure a billion operations per second.
So, given the technical parameters, a supercomputer is:
- a large number of processor cores (1 million cores, 2 million cores instead of 2 cores, 4 cores, 8 cores);
- RAM, which is measured not in gigabytes but in hundreds of terabytes;
- power, which is measured in tens of thousands of kilowatts;
- performance, which is measured in tens of petaflops.
History of appearance and development of supercomputers
The term "supercomputer" appeared in the United States back in the 60s, when the first attempts to create such a device took place. But the first supercomputer in the world is considered to be the Cray-1 device, which was created in 1974 by American scientist Seymour Cray, in whose honour it was named. The 1.5 metre high device occupied about 5-10 square metres and had a maximum power of only 180 megaflops.
Later, in the 80s, thanks to the same Seymour Cray, the world saw two more models of supercomputers. And since the 90s, such large IT-corporations as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, NEC have started producing supercomputers of their own production.
The most powerful modern supercomputers
Since 1993, there has been a world rating of the most powerful computing machines, which consists of 500 positions. This list is updated twice a year (in June and November) on the basis of information provided by the companies-manufacturers or users of the devices.
As of today, the 62nd version of the rating is up to date, which is headed by American supercomputers: Frontier (1,194 petaflops, 8,699,904 cores) takes the first place, Aurora (585,34 petaflops, 4,742,808 cores) is second, and Eagle (561,20 petaflops, 1,123,200 cores) is third. The Japanese Fugaku complex (442.01 petaflops, 7,630,848 cores), which held the first place a couple of years ago, has now moved to the fourth position. In the fifth position is the Finnish LUMI (379.70 petaflops, 2,752,704 cores). All the above supercomputers run on the Linux operating system.
American supercomputer Frontier
American supercomputer Aurora
American supercomputer Eagle
Japanese supercomputer Fugaku
Finnish supercomputer LUMI
Applications of supercomputers
With the development of technology, there are more and more applications for supercomputers. Most often they are used in those industries where it is necessary to process a large amount of information. In particular, these are:
- Medicine and pharmacology. With the help of a number cruncher it is possible to accurately determine the causes and regularities of development of some diseases, to discover effective methods of diagnostics and treatment (for example, of some types of cancer), to carry out calculations of various chemical compounds during the development of new drugs, to evaluate the effectiveness of antiviral drugs, etc.
- Science. Supercomputers help scientists to conduct various scientific researches (human brain, genome), are used in cryptography, chemistry and physics, molecular biology and a number of other spheres.
- Weather and climate. The use of supercomputers makes it possible to make more accurate weather forecasts, monitor climatic changes, the state of seas and oceans, predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions by modelling the state of the Earth's crust, etc.
- Aviation and space. Here supercomputers are used to create models and simulations to improve the design characteristics of aircraft, as well as for space exploration (modelling the collision of two planets, an asteroid and planets, etc.).
- Security and military industry. Supercomputers find application in security systems, allow modelling real situations for testing weapons in the process of their creation, serve for storage and operational access to classified data.
- IT business. Supercomputers are actively implemented in the work of large private companies that work with high technologies or are engaged in software development.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data. Due to their computing power, supercomputers help AI technologies to analyse large data sets quickly and are also actively used in Big Data.
Today, supercomputers that work faster than human thought are no longer a rarity: they are constantly evolving and bringing benefits to many industries. And in the future, they can become indispensable helpers in areas related to machine learning and artificial intelligence. But even the most powerful of such computer devices is inferior in work to the quantum computer, which has become a revolutionary development of our time. Therefore, we can already confidently say that future supercomputers will be quantum.