Faithful readers will remember me posing with my favorite supercomputer about a year ago. Datastar is going to be turned off in a few months. When it was turned on three years ago, it was the 35th fastest computer in the world, it has since slipped to 473rd. Despite the fact it's no longer the fastest thing around, it works wonderfully, and as I write this, there are at least sixty people logged onto this machine. Everyone I know loves Datastar, and wishes it wasn't going to be turned off. I am starting to move my work and attention to the newer machines. They are faster, and have many more processors, which makes queue times short (which is the time it takes for a job I request to run)
A few months ago, Ranger was turned on. It is a Sun cluster in Texas with 63,000 Intel CPU cores. It is currently ranked fourth fastest in the world. Datastar has only 2528 CPUs (but those are real CPUs, while Ranger has mutli-core chips which in reality aren't as good). By raw numbers, Ranger is an order of magnitude better than Datastar, except that Ranger doesn't work very well. Many different people are seeing memory leaks using vastly different codes. These codes work well on other machines. I have yet to be able to run anything at all on Ranger. For all intents and purposes, Ranger is useless to me right now.
If you look at the top of the list of super computers, you'll see that a machine called Roadrunner is the fastest in the world. Notice that it is made up of both AMD Opteron and IBM Cell processors. The Cell processor is the one inside Playstation 3s. Having two kind of chips adds a layer of complexity, which makes the machine less useful. The Cell processor is a vector processor, which is only awesome for very specially written code. The machine is fast, except it's also highly unusable. I don't have access to it because it's a DOE machine, but a colleague has tried it and says he got under 0.1% peak theoretical speed out of it. Other people were seeing similar numbers. No one ever gets 100% from any machine, but 0.1% is terrible.
Computers two and three on the list are DOE machines, so I don't have access to them. On the near horizon is a machine called Kraken, in Tennessee. It's being upgraded right now, but when it's complete it will be very similar to, but faster than the fifth fastest computer on the list currently, called Jaguar. It is a Cray XT4 that runs AMD Opteron chips. I got to use Kraken recently while it was still an XT3, and it was awesome. Unlike Ranger, it actually works. As an XT4, it should be even faster than Ranger. It will also have a great tape backup system, unlike Ranger.
I am predicting that Kraken will be come my new favorite super computer, replacing Datastar. However, I think it's a shame that Datastar is being turned off even though it's still very useful and popular. When it's turned off to make way for machines like Ranger and Roadrunner(*), that's just stupid.
(*) The pots of money for Ranger, Datstar and Roadrunner are different, but you get the point. Supercomputers aren't getting better; in some cases, they're getting worse!