World’s fastest supercomputer models the unseen universe

via DVICE Atom Feed by Charlie White on 10/30/09

World's fastest supercomputer models the unseen universe

It’s hard to tell what the universe looks like, especially since it takes billions of years for the light from most of it to reach us. It’s even more difficult to visualize the 70% of the matter in the universe that’s invisible.

That’s why scientists bring out the heavy iron, IBM Roadrunner, the world’s fastest supercomputer, to simulate crazy stuff like dark energy and dark matter for us. It’s crunching through data simulating galaxies full of trillions of stars at a sustained speed of faster than one petaflop, or 1 quadrillion calculations per second.

The remarkable power of Roadrunner pushes computational throughput beyond anything ever used before by three orders of magnitude, according to scientists working on the Roadrunner Universe Model. The result is the best look we’ve ever had at the origins of the mysterious unseen universe. The images will get better — there’s a 20-petaflop computer coming in 2012.

Via HPC Wire

Moore’s Law Rescuscitated by New Intel Chip Tech

hafnium.jpg

Intel and IBM have independently developed new ways to make transistors, keeping Moore’s Law going for at least two more generations of chips—down to 22 nm. Both methods involve new insulators made out of hafnium, which can be made thicker to reduce current leakage without reducing the electric charge.

If you want to skip to why you should care, basically it means faster chips that run cooler and consume less power. (Think more cores—lots of ’em—and mobile devices.) It also means that Intel maintains a nine-month lead over everybody else, with their chips made with the new tech dropping later this year, while IBM’s don’t roll out til ’08.

P.S. Neither article is written very clearly, so I recommend reading both of them.

Intel Says Chips Will Run Faster, Using Less Power [NYT]
Moore’s Law seen extended in chip breakthrough [Reuters]

If seeing chip factories from the inside is your thing, Robby Scoble’s got some videos here.

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IBM’s Power6 processor to exceed 5GHz

Apple may have gone Intel, but fans of the megahertz wars can still watch the clock frequency race cause it ain’t over yet. As reported by CNET, IBM’s Power6 processor will be able to exceed 5GHz in a high-performance mode, and the second-generation Cell Broadband Engine processor from IBM, Sony and Toshiba will run at 6GHz, according to the program for the International Solid State Circuits Conference that begins February 11 in San Francisco.

IBM, of course, once made PowerPC chips for Macs, and the Cell processor was once seen as a future chip for Apple systems. The first-generation Cell Broadband Engine chip, co-developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba, has just appeared in Sony’s PlayStation 3 game console and can run at 4GHz. The second-generation chip will run at 6GHz, according to the ISSCC program. In addition, the new chip will have a dual power supply that increases memory performance—a major bottleneck in computer designs today.

For servers, IBM has said its Power6 processor, due to ship in servers in 2007, will run between 4GHz and 5GHz, notes CNET. But in the ISSCC program, the company said the chip’s clock will tick at a rate “over 5GHz in high-performance applications.” In addition, the chip “consumes under 100 watts in power-sensitive applications,” a power range comparable to mainstream 95-watt AMD Opteron chips and 80-watt Intel Xeon chips.

The Top 10 Tech Stories of 2006

Mergers, acquisitions, lawsuits, scandals, and battery recalls kept journalists busy in 2006.

Megadeals signaled realignment in the IT industry and foreshadowed the Internet’s multimedia future. A much-delayed Vista debuted amid speculation that it would be the last of the old-school, big-bang product launches. As software giants announced support for Linux, and manufacturers switched chip allegiances, the open-source and chip industries were thrown into turmoil. 2006 was a transition year, as IT giants positioned themselves for a new era of global competition in the post-PC era. Here, not necessarily in order of importance, are the IDG News Service’s top news stories of the year.

HP Spy Scandal: Board, and Broad, Implications

A board feud at Hewlett-Packard hit the newspapers in September, leading to the resignation of Chairman Patricia Dunn. The board spat erupted over an investigation to see which board members leaked information–including arguments about the ouster of former Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina–to the press. The company used “pretexting,” where investigators pretend to be the people being investigated in order to access private information.

Criminal charges were filed against Dunn, legal counsel Kevin Hunsaker, and outside investigators. Users are unfazed: Under Mark Hurd, CEO and newly appointed chairman, HP has overtaken Dell as the leading PC maker and IBM as the biggest IT company in revenue terms. However, the scandal has broad implications. Congress may make pretexting a federal crime. Oversight of corporate governance is a rallying cry.

Microsoft Cuts a Deal With Novell: Embrace and Devour?

Microsoft’s November deal with Linux distributor Novell created turmoil in the open-source world. Microsoft will offer sales and support for Novell’s Suse Linux, work on interoperability, and indemnify Suse users and developers from potential Microsoft lawsuits against copyright infringement.

Industry insiders say that Microsoft is driving wedges into the open-source community, protecting only some users from legal reprisals. The open-source world had already been rocked in October, when Oracle’s move to offer full support for Red Hat Linux had industry insiders worrying Red Hat’s business model would suffer. Ultimately though, the software giants’ embrace of Linux is a sign that no one can ignore open source. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the impetus for the agreement came from customers. Though that’s an old line, there’s no doubt that open source has truly come of age.

Alcatel-Lucent: M&A Mania Grows

The merger of Alcatel and Lucent Technologies, announced in April, formed a $24 billion networking giant and signaled trends in global mergers and acquisitions. The hookup was necessary to face down competition in growth areas of the mature enterprise market–such as Voice over IP–while Chinese manufacturers put pressure on the West on the low end.

2006 is expected to yield 3945 M&A deals, up from 3455 in 2005 and the highest number ever, according to investment firm Innovation Advisors. Globalization and changing demand are fueling M&A in networking, the Internet, the chip industry and enterprise software. 2006 examples include Advanced Micro Devices and ATI Technologies, Red Hat and JBoss, and EMC and RSA Security.

Google-YouTube: Convergence 2.0

Google’s ability to afford the $1.65 billion price tag for its acquisition of YouTube, announced in October, underscored its status as the Internet’s superstar revenue generator. The deal itself confirmed video’s importance in the evolution of Web 2.0: the mashing together of user-generated content and multimedia applications.

“Anybody who wasn’t interested in YouTube was either asleep or not being honest,” said Jonathan Miller, who was deposed as AOL chairman after the Google-YouTube deal.

Competitors scrambled. Lycos launched a movie-streaming service mixing elements of social networking and online video, while movie studios and TV networks rushed to put video online. Legal issues between Internet sites and content producers need to be worked out, but one thing is for sure: Convergence of video and the Net has hit prime time.

AOL Search Data Release Fans Privacy Debate

AOL’s July release of search log data on 658,000 subscribers, meant for research use, became a cause celebre in the privacy-rights debate. Coming amid reports of corporate data leaks and phishing scams, it was yet another reminder of the general insecurity of data. The AOL records contained sensitive information like Social Security numbers.

In September three people sued the company in what their lawyers claimed was the first such lawsuit seeking national class-action status. They asked the court to instruct AOL not to store users’ Web search records. But the request is not likely to be granted. Law enforcement officials want service providers to retain user logs to aid investigations, and new data retention rules may be proposed. The ability of technology to store an ever-increasing amount of data will ensure continuing debate. Jurisdictional issues also come into play as the U.S. and Europe clash over different privacy standards.

When Batteries Attack: The Great Battery Recall of 2006

It was the biggest recall in the history of IT and consumer electronics. Sparked by reports that lithium-ion batteries could short circuit and catch fire, Dell in August recalled more than 4 million laptop batteries. The move was soon followed by manufacturers around the world including Apple Computer, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Lenovo, and Toshiba. More than 8 million batteries were recalled, leading to yet another black eye in an annus horribilis for Sony, the manufacturer of the faulty cells. The recall, startup costs for the delayed PlayStation 3 game console, and poor PlayStation Portable sales pushed Sony’s operations into the red.

Mac on Intel: Chip Industry Realigns

Apple’s January launch of the first Mac PCs running on Intel chips was historic. For decades, Apple’s insistence on going its own way has been its strength, and also its weakness: the company has traded seamlessly designed products for market share … at least, until the iPod came along. But Intel chips have breathed new life into the Mac line. A 30 percent jump in fiscal fourth-quarter Mac sales helped the company generate $546 million in profit and blow away analyst expectations. The company’s profit margin is great: in their last reported quarters, Dell had more than 300 percent greater revenue than Apple, but only 24 percent greater profit.

Meanwhile, in a blow to Intel, Dell announced in May that it would for the first time use chips from Intel archival Advanced Micro Devices, in multiprocessor servers by the end of the year.

Patent Wars Singe BlackBerry

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined in January to hear Research In Motion’s appeal in its patent battle with NTP, industry watchers started sounding the death knell for RIM’s BlackBerry. A $612.5 million March agreement between the companies, however, ensures that RIM will never have to worry about NTP patent claims again.

The case is emblematic of the disruptions caused by patent disputes, which often lead to near-automatic injunctions that prevent companies from selling products that allegedly infringe on patents–even before final patent rulings have been made. Many industry insiders found wisdom in the U.S. Supreme Court’s May ruling that courts need to look at multiple factors instead of immediately awarding injunctions. The court sided with eBay in a patent infringement case brought by online auction company MercExchange. But patent wars continue: NTP sued Palm in November.

Vista Launches

After numerous delays, Microsoft in November launched Vista, along with Office 2007 and Exchange 2007.

Though Microsoft CEO Ballmer called it “the biggest launch in our company’s history,” it didn’t have that feel. Consumer versions of Vista and Office won’t be available until the New Year, thus missing the holiday buying season. The products are important: among many other things, the level of interoperability among them is greater than ever before. But the launch may go down in history for another reason: it could be the last of the traditional big products launches. With more people tapping into hosted applications, Google experimenting with Internet-based productivity applications, and users receiving a steady stream of product updates over the Web, big-bang launches may fade into the past.

Gates Steps Back … to Plunge Into Philanthropy

Bill Gates’ June announcement that he will step out of his daily role at Microsoft in July 2008 was a milestone that comes at a transition time. While he will remain chairman, Gates will focus on philanthropy.

Microsoft was rarely if ever a first mover, as for example Apple has been. But by combining technical acumen and business brilliance, Gates embodied the quintessentially American entrepreneurial knack of seizing a great idea and commercializing it beyond people’s wildest dreams. His deal to provide the operating system for the IBM PC in 1981 fueled the personal computing revolution. Over the next 25 years Gates led Microsoft to embrace the graphical interface and bring it to the masses, conquer the desktop market, and ultimately navigate the shoals of the Internet era. Microsoft faces further battles in the Internet age, against Google and other companies that will spring up. Meanwhile the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has assets of about $30 billion. The world watches to see if Gates can revitalize philanthropy, as he did computing.

Mainframes Making a Comeback

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) — Cheap little servers handle so much of the Internet’s dirty work that giant computers known as mainframes, which debuted 50 years ago and often cost more than $1 million, are supposed to be passe.

When Hoplon Infotainment, a startup video game company in Brazil, let it be known that it uses a mainframe to operate its signature online game, “People would actually take a step back and say, ‘What? Did I hear correctly?”‘ said Tarquinio Teles, Hoplon’s CEO.

Yet mainframes are inspiring new ways of doing things at organizations like Hoplon. The trend is driven by and anxiously watched at IBM Corp., which makes the vast majority of the world’s remaining mainframes and continues to be hugely reliant on them.

After dropping nearly 8 percent in 2005, IBM’s mainframe revenue is up 10 percent this year. That includes a 25 percent gain in the most recent quarter.

Mainframes were IBM’s fastest-growing hardware segment after the microchip division, which is enjoying a nice ride making microprocessors for the top three video game consoles.

IBM does not release precise figures, but analysts estimate mainframe revenue at roughly $2.3 billion in the first nine months of 2006. While that is a small chunk of IBM’s overall sales of $65 billion so far this year, mainframe revenue is especially precious because the machines drive huge software and maintenance deals, making them IBM’s most profitable line of hardware.

Of course, the huge third-quarter boost is unlikely to be sustained. IBM is benefiting from having released two new mainframes in the past year, and sales eventually should taper until an upgrade comes, at least a year from now.

Such ups and downs are typical: Unisys Corp., a much smaller vendor, has seen mainframe sales drop this year, but spokesman Brian Daly said the numbers strengthened in the third quarter with the release of a new model.

Still, for IBM to be having success with mainframes at all is somewhat surprising. Because if you were to break modern computing history into its simplest terms, it would go something like this: There was the centralized-mainframe era, and then there was the distributed-computing era. And the former ended a while ago.

Mainframes emerged in the 1950s as room-sized hubs that did it all. They crunched numbers, administered transactions, ran simulations and stored data.

By the 1980s and ’90s, however, information technology was flourishing with flexible and smaller pieces of hardware that took on traditional mainframe duties.

Cheaper server computers could calculate stuff and serve up Web pages. New communications gear ferried information around networks. Separate storage machines made more efficient use of memory. Millions of desktop computers flowered.

Sun Microsystems Inc., a leading maker of servers, denigrated mainframes as “dinosaurs,” prompting IBM to call its next mainframe line the “T-Rex.”

As mainframes ceased to be the center of gravity, they mainly lived on in government agencies, banks or complex networks like airline travel systems.

Many such places needed mainframes’ heavy-duty security and processing ability, but others were locked into the specialized programs they had written in mainframes’ unique language.

“Where the mainframe still has a long-term home is running long-term code,” said John Parker, chief information officer for A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., a financial services firm that recently dropped its French-made mainframe but still runs key functions on a mainframe operated by a third-party hosting service. “Every industry has it, in my experience.”

Since inertia is not growth, the market for mainframes and servers costing more than $500,000 dropped from $19 billion in 2000 to less than $12 billion last year, according to analysts at IDC.

One huge challenge has been the machines’ old-school reputation. Programming mainframes still involves typing code on a green screen, much like early versions of DOS, the operating system that dominated PCs before the visual “windows” approach.

To try to encourage younger software developers to write programs for the machines, IBM recently announced a $100 million effort to simplify and modernize mainframe programming. Earlier it began encouraging customers to run Linux, Java and other low-intensity software on mainframes, in hopes of keeping the machines from falling deeper into specialized niches.

IBM also is trying to get creative in luring customers. In April it launched a “business-class” mainframe that costs $100,000 and up, targeted at smaller companies that want mainframes’ high level of security and reliability.

One key pitch is that mainframes can do so many tasks at once that they are more energy efficient and take up less space than a comparable cluster of smaller servers.

“For every application, many times it takes five servers in a distributed environment,” said Jim Stallings, who runs IBM’s mainframe division. “Many customers are saying, ‘I can’t deal with the complexity.”‘

The University of Toronto recently bought a business-class mainframe to manage enrollment and other administrative functions. Eugene Siciunas, director of computing services, said the main attraction was flexible pricing.

The university saved money upfront by selecting a mainframe that runs at less than top capacity. Then on days when computing loads are heavier, the school can buy a short-term boost of extra processing power. Network managers call IBM, which remotely tunes the mainframe to deliver better performance.

Hoplon, the Brazilian company, is using a mainframe’s processing might to build a complex “massively multiplayer” online game. But rather than shelling out precious startup capital to own a mainframe, Hoplon is remotely accessing one stashed in an IBM data center in Brazil. The same machine manages a retirement fund for IBM’s Brazilian employees and handles operations for a building-tools manufacturer.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Inc., said IBM has had to adopt such sales methods to “maintain the platform’s viability.”

“The company has done a good job of continuing to gain leverage out of the mainframe,” King said. “For a platform that a lot of folks have claimed is essentially moribund or headed into a very dark, bad future, it’s got remarkable legs.”

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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