Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Real Supercomputers

They look like this
From time to time BOM correspondents take us to task for referring to the dire NPfIT as the NHS "Supercomputer". They point out the grave disservice we do to real supercomputers.

Our excuse is that we're not computer experts, just angry taxpayers. But today we get news of how the real supercomputers are coming along. So we can educate ourselves.

It seems the World's Top Supercomputer battle is back on between Sun and IBM:

"The first contender, Constellation, has been built by Sun Microsystems at a cost of $59m (£30m) and boasts a 1.7 petabytes hard disk. The machine can operate at speeds of 421 teraflops, or 421 trillion calculations a second. But operating at such levels will be a significant power drain, requiring the same amount of power to run as a high-speed intercity train."

But IBM is not taking it lying down:

"IBM has announced its plan to build the latest Blue Gene computer, dubbed "P". Blue Gene/P is expected to be almost three times more powerful than its IBM predecessor, and will run continuously at speeds of around 1 petaflop - one quadrillion calculations a second. It is also claimed to be more energy efficient than its rivals."

After we've said gee-whizz, let's see if we can understand the differences between real supercomputers and the NPfIT:
  • Real supercomputers only cost £30m- not £20bn (the Health Minister's estimate for NPfIT)

  • Real supercomputers work

  • Real supercomputers are the product of competition- not Stalinist planners operating through huge nationalised blobs
Of course, in one respect the NPfIT is way ahead of the game. When it comes to flops, tera, peta, or even zetta, it leaves Sun and IBM in the dust.
PS Yes, I know we're comparing hardware and software. But come on, cut us a little slack.

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