Autore: ExtremeTech

Tianhe-2, with some pimped out purple lighting

In a massive escalation of the supercomputing arms race, China has built Tianhe-2, a supercomputer capable of 33.86 petaflops — almost twice as fast as the US Department of Energy’s Titan, and topping the official Top 500 list of supercomputers by some margin. The US isn’t scheduled to build another large supercomputer until 2015, suggesting China will hold pole position for a long time to come. The computer has 32,000 Ivy Bridge Xeon CPUs and 48,000 Xeon Phi accelerator boards for a total of 3,120,000 compute cores, which are decked out with 1.4 petabytes of RAM. And of course the operating system is Linux.

The construction of Tianhe-2 (literally Milky Way-2) comes as a huge surprise, as it was originally scheduled for deployment in 2015. No one knows why China proceeded so quickly, but it’s fairly safe to assume that it’s a reaction to the DoE’s completion of Titan last year. Tianhe-2, which is currently being tested in a non-optimal space, is capable of 33.86 petaflops — when it’s deployed in its final location, however, and when any bugs have been ironed out, the theoretical peak performance will be 54.9 petaflops. Assuming that the US doesn’t accelerate its own supercomputing plans, the final form of Tianhe-2 will be almost four times faster than any other supercomputer in the world.

Tianhe-2, with the lights on

To achieve a theoretical peak of 54.9 petaflops, Tianhe-2 has a mind-bogglingly insane hardware spec. There are a total of 125 cabinets housing 16,000 compute nodes, each of which contains two Intel Xeon (Ivy Bridge) CPUs and three 57-core Intel Xeon Phi accelerator cards. Each compute node has a total of 88GB of RAM. In total, according to a report [PDF] by Jack Dongarra of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, there are a total of 3,120,000 Intel cores and 1.404 petabytes of RAM, making Tianhe-2 by far the largest installation of Intel CPUs in the world. We believe it’s also the largest amount of RAM for a single system, too.

Tianhe-2 compute node diagram

Beyond the glut of x86 compute capacity, though, Tianhe-2 is notable for another reason: Except for the CPUs, almost all of the other components were made in China. The front-end system, which manages the actual operation of all the compute nodes, consists of Galaxy FT-1500 processors — 16-core SPARC chips designed and built by China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT). The interconnect (pictured below), also designed and constructed by the NUDT, consists of 13 576-port optoelectronic switches that connect each of the compute nodes via a fat tree topology. The operating system, Kylin Linux, was also developed by NUDT.

Tianhe-2 interconnect

Tianhe-2 is currently located at the NUDT while it undergoes testing, but will be fully deployed at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou (NSCC-GZ) by the end of 2013. The peak power consumption for the processors, memory, and interconnect is 17.6 megawatts, with the water cooling system bringing that up to 24MW — slightly below the gigaflops-per-watt efficiency record set by the DoE/ORNL/Cray Titan supercomputer. When Tianhe-2 is complete, its primary purpose will be as an open research platform for researchers in southern China.

Now read: The history of supercomputers