One of the great jokes about how computers have changed over the years is how one of these today...
...is actually a more powerful computer than this room-filling beast of one from the 1950s.
But... the era of massive supercomputer is far from over. And these modern compu-behemoths are powerful in ways that stagger the mind.
Take the incredible black hole photo that was revealed earlier this year.
Five petabytes of information were analyzed to create this image. That's 5 million gigabytes, or around 312,000 times what the average smartphone can store. Another way of understanding just how much data we're talking about is that it had to be sent to a pair of supercomputers in the U.S. and Germany by plane. The internet literally could not handle sending that much information.
So simply put, today's supercomputers are the ultimate standard in data interpretation, doing more calculations in a second than hundreds of humans could in a lifetime. And even they are about to reach a new Frontier...
What's an exaflop?
The United States Department of Energy just announced a project to build Frontier, the world's largest supercomputer, which will be ready in 2021. And just how powerful will it be?
Remember those 5 petabyte-sorting supercomputers we were talking about earlier? Well, even an army of them couldn't match Frontier. It will be as powerful as the world's top 160 computers combined with 1.5 exaflops of computing power.
What's an exaflop? Essentially, one exaflop equals one quintillion calculations per second. That's like solving 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 math problems in the blink of an eye. (And Frontier will be able to do 1,500,000,000,000,000,000 of them!)
The power of the current fastest supercomputer can only be measured in petaflops — units of one quadrillion calculations per second or 1,000,000,000,000,000 per second. The fact that we're saying 'only' about a number that huge gives you an idea of just how powerful Frontier will be.
Who will use it?
Good question. After all, kind of like how we don't always need the latest, super duper smartphone, you could say that maybe there is such a thing as a computer that is just too powerful for people to make use of.
But that would not be true! Almost anything in science can be predicted by math. The only problem is sometimes the equations are too big for even very powerful computers to solve quickly. A supercomputer like Frontier will enable scientists to create greater detail than ever in predicting how climates will change, how storms will move, how stars will explode, how galaxies will shift, and so much more. And all within just days, hours, or even minutes!
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