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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tianhe-2 is 'King of supercomputers'

by Mark Ollig

Costing $290 million to build, it performs an amazing 33.86 quadrillion calculations per second.

That equals 33.86 Pflop/s (petaflops). If we continue to break this down, we find one petaflop equals one quadrillion (one thousand-trillion) “flop/s” or floating-point operations (calculations) per second.

Folks, that’s 33,860,000,000,000,000 calculations per second.

This powerful processing power belongs to the new Chinese supercomputer called Tianhe-2 (Milky Way-2), also called the TH-2 High Performance Computer System.

One report states this supercomputer has the potential to reach a peak performance of 54.9 Pflop/s.

The TH-2 was built by China’s National University of Defense Technology, and is currently the fastest operating computer in the world per TOP500, which rates the 500 most powerful, commercially available computer systems.

Although the TH-2 makes use of US Intel Xeon Ivy Bridge E5-2692 processors, and Intel Xeon Phi 31S1P multiprocessing accelerator/co-processing chips, the supercomputer’s system design, front-end processors, and its particular operating software, are all Chinese- made.

There are 3,120,000 processors in the TH-2, and it can hold 12.4 PB (Petabytes) worth of disk storage data, or 12,697.6 TB (Terabytes), using a Global Shared parallel storage system. It also has one petabyte of RAM (Random Access Memory).

The TH-2 is twice as fast as the previous world’s fastest supercomputer, made in the US, called the Titan Cray XK7, built by Cray Inc.

The Titan supercomputer cost around $97 million to build, and is located in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee.

It was brought online in October of 2012, and hopefully, you read my Nov. 26 column about it.

At that time, I thought the Titan would reign as the world’s fastest supercomputer for a while.

However, as we are learning from experience, newer technology and faster computers seem to pop up just about every year.

The Titan operates at 17.59 Pflop/s, which means the TH-2 is nearly twice as fast, insofar as processing power goes.

With the increase in processing power, comes an increase in the energy needed to operate all the associated hardware and computing components.

That being said, it should come as no surprise the TH-2 consumes more energy than the Titan.

Total power consumption for the Titan is 12.7 MW (megawatts), while the TH-2 consumes 17.8 MWs.

To keep the TH-2 supercomputer components from over-heating, a closed-coupled, chilled customized liquid water-cooling unit is used.

The TH-2 is housed at the National Supercomputer Center in the city of Guangzhou, which is located in Guangdong province of southern China.

The computing software operating system used in the TH-2 is called Kylin Linux. China’s National University of Defense Technology developed Kylin.

One advantage of using Kylin is its ability to support numerous microprocessors, differently-structured computers, and other conventionally-used software operating systems.

The TH-2 consists of 162 computing, communication, and data storage cabinets inside rows of frames.

A series of lights on each cabinet will blink to show activity. The cabinet doors have a horizontal strip of lights which will change color to indicate power load usage.

You can view a photo of how these lights look on the TH-2 supercomputer at:

Regarding the processors, there are 384,000 central processor cores, and 48,000 accelerator communication processor cores.

The TH-2 uses 10 Gbps (Gigabits per second) backplanes for the transmission of data operating between the computing nodes.

China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer, in addition to providing its citizens with education and research, will deliver high-performance computing service for the people living in the southern China region.

So, when will the US have its next supercomputer on the playing field?

Jack Dongarra, a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee, said, “The next large acquisition of a supercomputer for the US Department of Energy will not be until 2015.”

The next major advancement in supercomputing, in my opinion, will come when it breaks the exascale processing barrier.

A future supercomputer processing 1 Eflop/s (exaflops) would possess processing power equal to 1,000 Pflop/s (one thousand petaflops) as compared to the 54.9 Pflop/s maximum processing potential of the TH-2.

The US Department of Energy has an Exascale Computing Initiative group currently working on achieving 1 Eflop/s processing. In fact, they may have already come up with an operating system strategy for it.

This writer does not believe we will see 1 Eflop/s on a US supercomputer before 2023.

I also once believed there would never be a better portable personal computer than my 1995 HP OmniBook notebook PC.

Even though it is quite technologically inferior to what I use today, I still miss not having that old OmniBook around.

To see some exceptional, close-up pictures of the Tianhe-2, and to learn more about China’s new supercomputer, go to

Hmm, I wonder if there are any vintage OmniBooks available on eBay or Amazon.