Supercomputers are the next big thing in the computing world, changing the way businesses operate and giving them the competitive edge they need to beat rivals in their industry. From mass storage to speed of light calculations, supercomputing is the fuel the world needs to keep it digitally transforming.
Supercomputers date back to the 1960s, when the ‘Atlas’ was created by Seymour Cray and officially commissioned on 7th December 1962 as one of the world’s first supercomputers. Back then, it was considered to be the most powerful computer available, operating at 1m instructions per second.
From the Atlas, supercomputers got faster and faster – the Cray-2 came along in 1985, boosting operating speed to 1.9gigFlops. Fast forward to 2015, IBM rolled out a supercomputer boasting 2097Flops, a mammoth increase in just 20 years.
But what exactly is a supercomputer?
A supercomputer is a computing system, made up of hardware, systems software and applications software, that can perform at the highest operational rate for computers.
With this vast computational power, supercomputers have revolutionised the way data is processed, stored, and analysed. Best used in fields of work that requires highly analytical data processes and intensive tasks enables supercomputing to be utilised to the full. Weather forecasting, climate research, health data and quantum mechanics are all examples of areas of work supercomputing is used for.
Computer vs. Supercomputer
Compared to ordinary computers, supercomputers use different technology to process data information; parallel processing enables the system to operate multiple tasks at once, instead of serial processing which only allows the system to process one item at a time.
A mainstream computer can’t compare to a supercomputer on almost every level; only able to carry out singular tasks, working at millions per seconds (MIPS) rather than floating-point operations per seconds (FLOPS) performing up to quadrillions of FLOPS.
Today, supercomputing is used to aid efficient and speedy delivery of data and work processing for business workers and everyday users.
Many technology companies around the world offer different supercomputing models, such Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s “The Machine”.
Earlier this year, HPE announced the ‘world’s largest’ single memory computer. Designed to work on ‘big data’, the supercomputer is built with a memory of 160TB – the equivalent to analysing 160 million books at the same time. Put into perspective, an iPhone 7 only has 2GB of random-access memory.
Named ‘The Machine’ HPE uses a Linux based operating system, common across other supercomputer models, prioritising memory over processing power unlike the traditional supercomputer. The proto-type is part of HPE’s memory-driven computing project.
Developing systems that put memory data at the forefront of the computing system will lead to huge jumps in performance and efficiency for companies, saving energy by pulling data from one area of the system, rather than from storage to processor. Additionally, it accelerates the process and enables businesses to move at a quicker pace and keep up with the demand from developing technologies such as AI and Cloud.
According to experts, it will eventually lead to a ‘near-limitless” memory pool for computing technology. With this in mind, the future of computing would be taken to another level in the digital transformation age.
‘The Machine’ will create a new world of computing for industry sectors, taking data analytics to the next level by enabling businesses to operate efficiently and effectively to benefit their consumers. The amount of data stored and analysed at one time has increased dramatically to benefit heavily data driven businesses such as those in the financial sector, transportation or healthcare.
It’s all well and good to have an efficient data and server system, but security is a crucial factor in the cyber era. Of course, supercomputer systems operate much more securely than normal computers. Supercomputers are built to multi-task, and not just with data analytics. HPE’s design is a good example; within the supercomputer system HPE has developed a more secure network by separating security from the main operating environment to monitor the intrusion level from outside companies. Whilst the system is running, the security system rapidly encrypts data creating two platforms of data storage to ensure maximum security is kept across the system.
With this in mind, supercomputing will enhance future computing by protecting business systems with added levels of security. As digital transformation accelerates, supercomputer systems can easily be added into the current systems of companies to enable quick changes to the system without mass installation.
To industries and beyond
Traditionally, supercomputers are used for scientific and engineering applications that handle very large databases or demand vast amounts of computation. Being able to process in FLOPS rather than MIPS allows the system to handle larger quantities of data, which businesses across different sectors will utilise for large operations.
Healthcare can significantly benefit from supercomputers as the system can analyse large amounts of data to conclude a precise diagnosis for patients. As demand increases, doctors need the best system to provide them with sufficient data. Doctors need access to a patient’s full medical history to create a personalised diagnosis and treatment plan, digital transformation to supercomputers allows medics to sift through history quickly and efficiently to find the necessary data to make their conclusion.
Universities can benefit just as much, if not more than standard industries. The University of Bristol invested in the model Blue Crystal 4, a supercomputer that over 1,000 researchers and PhD students covering areas like palaeobiology, biochemistry and aerospace engineering can use to carry out research.
The system plays a crucial role in doing calculations and analysis that would normally take years to complete in a matter of minutes. Allowing researchers and students at the University to process large quantities of data in record time, Blue Crystal 4 works three times the speed of its predecessor, at its peak performing at 600teraFLOPS, enabling research to be carried out quickly and accurately.
The Future of Computing with Supercomputers
Put in simple terms, Supercomputers will change the world. Computing’s future will be changed by allowing businesses to store large quantities of data in enhanced memory systems of supercomputers, as well as the ability to restore data from years ago and generate data at a much quicker pace; in seconds rather than hours or minutes. Built to hold more data on the software system will enable future computing to operate more efficiently, driving research and finding answers quicker.