Brief Thought: What Would You do with a Petaflop? Or a Petabyte?

July 19, 2011
Some Technologies Coming Down the Pike In the most recent Top500 List of Fastest Supercomputers a Cray XT5 Supercomputer known as Jaguar achieved

Some Technologies Coming Down the Pike

In the most recent Top500 List of Fastest Supercomputers a Cray XT5 Supercomputer known as Jaguar achieved a sustained 1.75 petaflop/second, running the Linpack benchmark, with a theoretical maximum of 2.3 petaflop/second. One petaflop/second is one quadrillion floating point calculations per second - that’s a million billion calculations per second. While petaflops and linpack are somewhat specific to the solution of a dense N x N system of linear equations, which are a common class of engineering problems, it is worth noting that “a single modern PC is now more powerful than a 10-year-old supercomputer”. In fact, most of today’s supercomputers are massively parallelized x86 and x86-64 chips, the same chips that run in most of the world’s laptops, desktops and servers. Petaflops on your desktop and teraflops in your smartphone are not far away.

We’re all aware of terabyte data centers these days, but are you aware that many of the largest are measured in petabytes? These data centers, whether running in support of The Cloud, data archives, games or other applications are so big and so new most engineers, administrators and mathematicians don’t even really understand how to work with them. Just for scale, it is estimated that the entire written works of humankind, from the beginning of time, in all languages is about 50 petabytes. Furthermore, if you believe in Moore’s Law, we are less than 5 years away from flash memory (i.e. thumb drives) in excess of 1 terabyte. Remember, there are no moving parts (other than electrons) in flash memory and I/O is several orders of magnitude faster than with traditional magnetic spinning disks and their read/write heads.

Combine both of the above trends with columnar databases, hot-cold data management strategies and the increasingly wirelessly-wired, interconnected and real-time healthcare environment where every device spews forth a stream of data and every human action and reaction, both of the provider and of the patient, is digitally recorded (think portable monitoring of metabolic states as part of intensive disease management).

Do you see the utopian worlds of Gene Roddenberry and Buckminster Fuller, or the dystopian worlds of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Nolan and Johnson?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way

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