The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory has launched the new supercomputer Titan, a system that adopts the new Cray architecture that claims to have a peak power of twenty Petaflops. With such performances, Titan could become the most powerful supercomputers in the world surpassing Sequoia.
Titan isn’t a supercomputer built from scratch but an upgrade of Jaguar, which in 2009 was the most powerful in the world, a record it held for about a year. Until the update that led to the birth of Titan, Jaguar was still in the Top 10 of the most powerful supercomputers in the world with a power of 2.3 Petaflops.
The special feature of the Titan supercomputer is new architecture is that to Jaguar’s processors they added GPUs, or graphics processors generally used by graphics cards. Specifically, Titan is based on Cray XK7 blades for a total of 18.688 nodes each containing a CPU of the AMD Opteron 6274 type with 16 cores and a GPU NVIDIA Tesla K20. This GPU has been designed specifically for applications of High Performance Computing (HPC), which are those of supercomputers.
The choice is due to the computing power of graphics processors, which have become really remarkable. GPUs can in fact handle hundreds of simultaneous calculations, much more than normal CPUs. Titan’s 299.008 total cores can handle simulations letting the GPU manage the heavy math load.
If Jaguar had been updated only by increasing the number of CPUs, the resulting system would be four times larger and would consume more than 30 MW of power. The use of GPUs has instead allowed Titan to use the same physical space as Jaguar and 9 MW of power against the 7 MW of Jaguar.
Titan has about 710 TB of system memory. There’s no official information on its operating system but Jaguar used Cray Linux Environment, a version of Linux developed by Cray, so it’s likely that Titan uses it as well.
Titan hasn’t been built to be the most powerful supercomputer in the world but to carry out scientific simulations that are extremely sophisticated and and consequently require enormous computing power.
Titan will be used to create simulations in research in fields such as nuclear energy, including those relating to nuclear fusion, biofuels, new materials, climate change and even astrophysics.
Edit November 13, 2012. The Titan supercomputer has been crowned the world’s most powerful supercomputer by Top 500.