When the latest rankings on the world’s fastest supercomputers were released recently, many people only focused on the hype around the K Computer, which is used at the Riken Institute for Physical and Chemical Research in Kobe, Japan.
The K Computer is four times faster than the next-fastest computer, the Tianhe-1A, located at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, China.
It seems natural for the fastest supercomputers in the world to be situated in the technologically advanced East, but at number 329 on the list and easily missed if not studied, is the Centre for High Performance Computing’s (CHPC) Tsessebe Sun Constellation System here in South Africa on the CHPC campus of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Cape Town.
When the Tsessebe system was launched by the Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor, in September 2009 it was ranked number 311 on the TOP500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers – definitely faster than the Southern African antelope it was named after.
Unfortunately, as a result of the fast pace of development in the supercomputing arena, the Tsessebe already dropped to number 461 by May 2010 and fell from the list soon after. In another example of the speed at which things change in supercomputing, the Tianhe-1A was the fastest computer just a year ago.
It took a substantial upgrade of the machine in October 2011 for the Tsessebe to regain its place in the TOP500. The upgrade improved the performance of the CHPC machine, as measured by the LINPACK Benchmark, from 25 Teraflops to 61 Teraflops.
The upgrade was necessitated as usage by various universities and science council teams had brought the utilisation of the machine to nearly 100%.
This is still a far cry from the speed of the K Computer and the Tianhe-1A. The K Computer is capable of 10.51 Petaflops. It can do 10.51 quadrillion calculations per second. That’s 10.51 million billion calculations per second. The Tianhe-1A can do 2.57 quadrillion calculations per second. The Tsessebe is able to process over 60 trillion cycles of instruction per second and is 10m in length, 2m wide and stands 2m high, the CSIR told Moneyweb.
The CHPC system has been Africa’s fastest supercomputer since its launch. It is an important component of South Africa’s National Cyberinfrastructure that is being built in a partnership by the Department of Science and Technology and the CSIR. It is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology implemented by the CSIR Meraka Institute.
The CHPC’s Tsessebe system is made up of Oracle’s Sunblade X6275 blades with Intel Nehalem 8 core processors and Westmere 12 core processors as well as Dell’s Poweredge C6100 servers with Intel Westmere 12 core processors. The system has a theoretical peak performance of 74 Teraflops.
According to the CSIR the Tsessebe high performance computing platforms are being used for computationally intensive problems in fields such as materials science, climatology, chemistry and the biomedical domain.
The CHPC systems are available to researchers across the country through the 10 gigabit-per-second South African National Research Network.
For comparison’s sake, the fastest commercially available Intel processor (the Core i7) is capable of about 109 gigaflops, or about 109 billion calculations per second. That means K Computer is more than 96 000 times faster than your PC. The Tsessebe is 550 times faster.