Top Of The FLOPS


by Tim Moran

Things move so fast today, there's so much to do, so much to process, that we rarely think about where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.

Michael Hopkins, Editor‐in‐Chief of the MIT Sloan Management Review, took a few minutes to do some of that reflection in his spring Editor's Note. "Let me tell a quick story about how hard it is to keep on top of [the] pace of change, even if, like me, you're supposed to do it for a living," he writes.

Hopkins explains that he recently had the opportunity to visit the Deutsches Museum, in Munich, which he calls "one of the world's great science and engineering museums. . . . It's a geek paradise." What particularly caught his attention was "one of the crown jewels" of the collection: an original Cray supercomputer. According to the Cray site, "The first Cray-1 system was installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1976 for $8.8 million. It boasted a world-record speed of 160 million floating-point operations per second (160 megaflops) and an 8 megabyte (1 million word) main memory."

This got Hopkins thinking: "I found myself wondering if today's PCs were faster or slower than a Cray supercomputer. I honestly didn't know the answer." He did some research and learned, he says, that "the computer that you and I have access to now-- for something on the order of $1,000 as opposed to the Cray's $1 million or $10 million--is, I believe, at least 100 times more powerful than that Cray supercomputer."

If true, that's a mind-bending development. And it got me to thinking, too: Where are we now in supercomputing compared with that Cray?

Well, a blog called Royal Pingdom says that, as of the end of 2009, the Jaguar Cray XT5 is the leader, far and away. The Jaguar's performance is rated at 1.759 petaflops (theoretical maximum: 2.33 petaflops). It sports 300 terabytes of RAM and 10 petabytes of disk space.

Explains Royal Pingdom: "One petaflops is the equivalent of one thousand trillion operations per second." You do the math. What I'm looking forward to is that, by 2040 or so, I'll be writing my four-thousandth blog post soooooo much faster than I am today.