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ACM TechNews

Supercomputers Break Petaflop Barrier, Transforming Science

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The surpassing of petaflop speeds by a new breed of supercomputers could facilitate a profound scientific transformation by bringing simulation to the cutting edge of science, according to leading researchers. "The new capability allows you to do fundamentally new physics and tackle new problems," says Thomas Zacharia of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "And it will accelerate the transition from basic research to applied technology." The new machines will enable scientists to run models of complex phenomena, such as weather systems, with far greater accuracy. The public's interest in climate change and its potential effects is putting pressure on researchers to create precise predictive simulations, and petaflop computers can deliver the much higher resolution needed for such models. IBM and Cray have developed machines that have broken the petaflop barrier, and Oak Ridge's Cray XT5 Jaguar has 362 TB of memory, which is 300 percent more memory capacity than any other computer, says Zacharia. So that researchers' switch to Jaguar was as seamless as possible, designers let them use existing applications rather than programming new ones.

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