Roadrunner Supercomputer Decommissioned On Sunday
April 1, 2013

One-Time World’s Fastest Supercomputer Roadrunner Retired On Sunday

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The first supercomputer to complete one quadrillion calculations per second has been officially decommissioned, going offline Sunday after being operational for the past five years.

The computer, which was known as Roadrunner, was built by IBM and went online in 2008. The $120 million Roadrunner quickly became the fastest supercomputer on Earth (a title it held until November 2009). Its success was largely due to technology that featured 296 server racks covering 6,000 square feet, according to Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica.

Time passes quickly, though, and on Friday officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory announced that they were pulling the plug on Roadrunner on March 31 — even though it was still considered one of the 25 fastest supercomputers in the world at the time of its demise, Gizmodo´s Lily Newman said. It will be replaced by Cielo, which Newman refers to as a “faster, cheaper and more energy efficient computer.”

“Roadrunner exemplified stockpile stewardship: an excellent team integrating complex codes with advanced computing architectures to ensure a safe, secure and effective deterrent,” Chris Deeney, the National Nuclear Security Administration´s (NNSA) Assistant Deputy Administrator for Stockpile Stewardship, said in a statement.

“Roadrunner and its successes have positioned us well to weather the technology changes on the HPC horizon as we implement stockpile modernization without recourse to underground testing,” he added.

Now that the machine has been shut off, researchers will spend approximately one month conducting experiments on operating system memory compression techniques for applications relevant to the NNSA´s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program. Furthermore, those experiments will involve data routing optimization techniques in order to help shape the design of the next generation of capacity cluster computers.

“Although other hybrid computers existed, none were at the supercomputing scale. Many doubted that a hybrid supercomputer could work,” officials from Los Alamos said, adding that building Roadrunner was “a leap of faith” that that “high-speed calculation was the primary goal” of the project.

“When a computer is fast enough to improve simulation detail and fidelity, with reasonable turnaround time, the resulting simulations deepen a scientists´ understanding of the phenomena they´re studying,” they said. “Roadrunner took on a difficult, long-standing gap in understanding of energy flow in a weapon and its relation to weapon yield. Roadrunner made a significant contribution to that understanding.”

The computer provided researchers a platform with which to study a vast array of different scientific mysteries, including the behavior of nanowire, magnetic reconnection, laser backscatter, HIV phylogenetics, and a seven 70-billion-particle scale simulation of the universe.

Gary Grider of the Laboratory's High Performance Computing Division called it “a truly pioneering idea” that “got everyone thinking in new ways about how to build and use a supercomputer. Specialized processors are being included in new ways on new systems, and being used in novel ways. Our demonstration with Roadrunner caused everyone to pay attention.”

As of Sunday, however, Roadrunner has performed its final calculation.

“Don't mourn too much for the one-time legend, however,” explains Jon Fingas of Engadget. “It's true that the supercomputer has been eclipsed by cheaper, faster or greener competitors, including its reborn Cray arch-nemesis — but there's no question that we'll have learned from Roadrunner's brief moment in the spotlight.”