Supercomputer – Chasing Records

Supercomputers teach autonomous cars to drive, calculate the optimal shape of wind turbine rotor blades, and accurately predict the weather. The new superstar of the scene bears the name Leonardo and is setting a breathtaking pace. But even this supercomputer wouldn’t stand a chance against a quantum computer.

Researchers and scientists use the potential of supercomputers for sophisticated calculations and complex simulations. Photo: shutterstock - seventyfour

Researchers and scientists use the potential of supercomputers for sophisticated calculations and complex simulations. Photo: shutterstock – seventyfour

Supercomputers’ trademark is their incredible speed. A modern system could process all of the US academic research libraries in a fraction of a second. Yet supercomputers are ultimately just simple computers, with the subtle difference that they can draw from a wealth of resources in terms of the technology they use. A high-performance computer usually consists of several thousand individual computers with the power of many hundreds of thousands of computing cores. Researchers and scientists use this potential for sophisticated calculations and complex simulations. These include propagation scenarios for the Corona virus, but also climate models, weather forecasts, or the aerodynamics of wind turbine rotor blades.

Digital projects that benefit from increased computing power are also on expert organization DEKRA’s agenda. In New Zealand, for example, DEKRA software experts have developed a prototype of a self-learning system based on artificial intelligence (AI) that can predict defective vehicle parts in order to improve road safety. Focus topics such as the Internet of Things, blockchain, and cyber security also require concentrated computing power. “Increasingly powerful computers and sensors enable us to evaluate rising data volumes efficiently and in near real time. Moreover, as component prices are simultaneously falling, data can be efficiently collected and processed almost everywhere, thus opening up additional data sources,” explains Dr. Christoph Maier, Chief Technology Officer at the DEKRA DIGITAL innovation unit. So are high-performance computers exactly the future technology that the digital age requires?

Supercomputer Leonardo is equipped with graphics chips from Nvidia. Photo: NvidiaSupercomputers will continue to set speed records in the future. Photo: NvidiaThe Supercomputer Research Center Jülich is already using a high-performance computer that almost perfectly simulates the operation of a quantum computer. Photo: Jülich

The power of supercomputers goes beyond all limits of imagination

The new star in the supercomputer sky is called Leonardo and is intended to advance AI research in Europe. The name is, of course, a nod to the universal genius Leonardo da Vinci, who is said to have made a foray into IT with the design of a calculating machine 500 years ago. Leonardo’s future workplace is the Cineca supercomputing center in Bologna, which plans to put the computer into service at the end of the year. The EU and the Italian Ministry of Research will each bear half of the costs of around 120 million euros. From a technological point of view, Leonardo is a true American – it’s equipped with graphics chips from Nvidia and processors from Intel, among others. Leonardo takes pole position in the exclusive field of supercomputers in artificial intelligence calculations with the seemingly magical speed of ten exaflops, which corresponds to ten trillion (1019) computing operations per second. The unit “flops” means that a computer adds or multiplies a certain number of floating point numbers every second, i.e. floating point operations per second (flops). Compared to Leonardo, a modern gaming PC is a lame duck. Commercially available systems with a CPU (Central Processing Unit) with twelve cores and optimal equipment achieve around 800 gigaflops (8011). This means that the desktop is at least close to the one teraflops mark (1012), which is roughly the computing power of the fastest supercomputer of the year 2000 (ASCI Red), which researchers used to simulate the explosions of nuclear weapons.

Quantum computers operate in a sphere beyond classical physics

Quantum computers solve tasks in a very short time that would have taken a conventional supercomputer many years. Photo: Jülich

The Research Center Jülich is currently building a quantum computer as part of the OpenSuperQ project. For the moment, a simple quantum chip with two qubits is being tested. Photo: FZ Jülich

Supercomputers will continue to set speed records in the future. It’s quite possible, however, that in just a few years they’ll be in demand primarily as development aids for a completely new computer technology. We’re talking about quantum computers, which are no longer subject to the limits of classical physics. In fact, these systems, whose memory units (qubits) are based on electrons and photons, could advance into completely new spheres of performance – and thus reinvent data processing from the ground up. Google, at any rate, has already provided proof of performance with its quantum computer called “Sycamore”, as has the Chinese University of Hefei with its “Jiuzhang”. Both quantum computers have solved tasks in a very short time that would have taken a conventional supercomputer many years. A marketable quantum computer, however, is likely to be some time in coming. The Fraunhofer Society believes that researchers in Germany will be able to develop their own quantum computer within eight years. Assistance in the development of these hypercomputers will then be provided by supercomputers. The Supercomputer Research Center Jülich is already using a high-performance computer that almost perfectly simulates the operation of a quantum computer.

Related articles
 
Magazine Topics
 
Newsletter