These days, whenever we think of supercomputers, we assume that these large computer systems are indeed technical artifacts that are just meant for museums. Most of the computers today are remarkably smaller than systems that were used to be at the time when we heard the term “computer” for the first-ever. Supercomputers are still the need of the hour.
When we look back around a half-century ago, we can see the world’s smallest computer was a humongous machine that occupied the entire room. At the time, when microchip became significant components of the system framework, the world of computer transformed completely and presently, they even assumed the size of a human fingernail.
What happens if we build a standard room-sized computer that is incorporated with a lot of those kinds of chips at present? Indeed, we get what is called a supercomputer – the machine whose power of processing is hugely more significant as compared to the traditional computers and is capable of solving the most complicated problems associated with the scientific field. If so, in what way these supercomputers differ from the conventional machines that we are using presently? Then, let’s have a closer view!
Brief Overview – What Is A Supercomputer?
Any machine whose performance capability (be it concerning design or default) empowers it to compete effectively in terms of data congregation and functionality can be termed as “supercomputer.” Well, originally designed to process a massive amount of data to assist organizations as well as enterprises, supercomputers work based on architectural as well as operational principles associated with grid and parallel processing.
Every single process is executed on a large number of processors at once or is distributed amongst them. Even though supercomputers incorporate millions of processors and demand a considerable amount of floor space, however, they usually comprise of most significant components of a conventional computer system, including an operating system, peripheral devices, connectors, applications, and processor(s).
Current Trends In Supercomputer Market
As per a recent report, the global market size of a supercomputer is estimated to flourish around $1.45 billion by the end of the year 2022. In spite of this projected rapid growth, surviving in the ever-changing technology industry is not that easy, as many prominent supercomputer makers, namely, Dell, Lenovo, Cray, and HPE offer an assorted array of high-performance computing solutions nowadays.
When we have a look at a modern supercomputer’s architecture attentively, we will be able to observe that, the entire system is intentionally configured with a sole purpose, i.e., parallel processing. This is entirely different from the multitasking process, in which a scheduling mechanism successfully juggles several tasks leading towards some concurrency.
Although, typical multi-core processors meant for personal computers as well as data center servers regarded as essential components of supercomputers, however, at the end of the 20th century, the majority of machines were formed of COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) elements. In fact, in the past, several significant factors owing to a dramatic transformation in the technological world, re-inspired the demand for a purpose-built architecture of the supercomputer systems.
The Impact of Moore’ Law Ending.
In 1965, soon after the commission of the world’s first-ever supercomputer, one of the Intel’s co-founders Gordon Moore proposed that the number of transistors within processors doubles up for every couple of years which would result in more affordability concerning speed boosters and bigger memory solutions soon.
This surge certainly enhances the performance of the system and assists in coping with customer expectations with higher productivity. Even though, Moore’s suggestion proved right over the last few decades; however, most of the technologists strongly claims that it may not hold true any longer in terms of practicability.
Recently, Intel adopted “Process.Architecture.Optimization” production model and replaced its traditional “tick-tock” model to achieve competitive advantage over lower power consumption and higher performance. By doing so, Intel tried to capture the attention of the market towards it’s Xeon product range and proclaimed that the firm is highly committed to delivering performance-optimized solutions to meet its customer’s dynamic system requirements best.
Clear distinguish between hardware and software.
In the flourishing era of PCs, the manufacturers used to offer both system hardware and software as bundled products, due to which it was challenging to assess the performance of hardware components against the applications on an individual basis. However, today’s technological advancement made it simpler to distinguish between the functionalities of hardware and software.
A paradigm shift towards cloud platform.
Over recent years, a large number of organizations showed interest in migrating their business processes on the cloud rather than opting services from the traditional vendors, such as Rackspace, GoGrid, and Amazon. As these organizations perceive that their cloud-computing service vendors will manage all their business functions with the assistance of advanced features associated with cloud-platform as opposed to in-house IT department. Favorably, this perception emphasizes more on “computing” that brings back all the significant attention towards supercomputers.
Ability to predict changing weather conditions.
As global warming’s impacts became an indisputable issue, the spotlight has been mostly focused on supercomputers for the accurate prediction of ever-changing weather conditions. Due to complex natured massive data as well as climate patterns, researchers are gradually raising investments in more robust systems that are available currently, i.e., supercomputers.
Serial and Parallel Processing
You must be able to differentiate between serial and parallel. In general, computers are designed to do one thing at a time; this means they do the things in a distinct series of operations known as serial processing. It’s like a person waiting at a grocery store billing counter, picking up the products from the conveyor belt, scanning them and passing them for final packing.
Regardless the loading time is taken by the person or the packing time, the speed at which he checks out his shopping is determined by the rate of the operator during scanning and processing the products, which is always one at a time. The supercomputer, whereas, is designed to work more quickly. It splits the problems into pieces and works on several pieces at a time; this is parallel processing.
It’s like a group of friends arrived with a full trolley of products. Each friend can move to separate checkout with a few numbers of products and pay for it. Once every friend has paid successfully, they can get together, load the cart again, and leave. Parallel processing is similar to things that happen inside the human brain.
Why Supercomputers Use Parallel Processing?
You hardly use the processing power of our computers as we use them for browsing, sending emails, writing documents, etc. However, if you try to do something complex, like changing the colors of each massive digital photo, our computer can do that. It may take a couple of minutes. When playing a game on PC, you already know that you require fast processor chip and big RAM to avoid slow performance.
Faster processor will double the memory and speed of the computer, yet there is a limit – the processor can only do one thing at a time. The best way to make a difference is to apply parallel processing. It can be done by addition of more processors, splitting of the problem into chunks, and using each processor for a different separated problem in parallel.
Does Supercomputer require special software?
Don’t get surprised if you get to know that supercomputers run a fairly ordinary OS that is similar to the ones running on your personal computer. Modern supercomputers are the clusters of off-the-shelf workstations or computers. Unix was the operating system used by the supercomputers, which has now been superseded by Linux.
As supercomputers are intended to work on scientific problems in general, their app programs are written in a traditional scientific programming language, including Fortran, C and C++.
Top applications of supercomputers
The Super-sized problems.
The supercomputers with their capabilities, can understand and predict complex natural hazards. Take the instance of earthquakes. It’s critical to understand every minor and significant aspect of earthquake to avoid risking any life. Research teams have been successful most times in predicting and estimating cyclone patterns with the help of supercomputers. This becomes possible with the high-level software specially designed for and handled by supercomputers.
Supercomputers have often been applied for diagnosing several diseases. The main application of supercomputer is in studying the disease-causing agents’ behavior; only after which appropriate medicines and vaccines can be made.
Apart from this, research reports issued by supercomputers have helped doctors in understanding brain injuries, strokes, and other blood flow issues in a better way.
In the air.
Supercomputers have revolutionized the designing of airplanes. Credit goes to the simulators assisting manufacturers in understanding the airflow dynamics to craft better and safer airplanes.
Today, the supercomputers might significantly contribute towards digital transformation across the industries, earlier detection of genetic disorders, better weather forecasting, achieve most significant scientific breakthroughs, and of course, making of reliable business decisions.
As internet usage will surge dramatically in the near future, the rise in the amount of data brings some complicated issues associated with the processing of massive data and faster computations to the surface. These issues can be adequately addressed by the most powerful computing systems, i.e., by supercomputers.