A supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was named the world's most powerful in a study released on Monday by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The cluster of computers, called Sequoia and built by IBM, can run 16.32 quadrillion operations per second (that's a one followed by 15 zeroes). Sequioa consists of 96 racks, 98,304 individual nodes, 1.6 million cores and 1.6 petabytes of memory (roughly equal to 1638 terabytes, if that helps).
Japan's K computer nabbed the second spot on the list with 10.51 petaflops per second.
"Computing platforms like Sequoia help the United States keep its nuclear stockpile safe, secure, and effective without the need for underground testing," said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino in a statement. "While Sequoia may be the fastest, the underlying computing capabilities it provides give us increased confidence in the nation’s nuclear deterrent as the weapons stockpile changes under treaty agreements, a critical part of President Obama’s nuclear security agenda."
Sequoia allows scientists to accomplish tasks such as accurately looking at what happens inside of a nuclear bomb blast without actually having to blow anything up. It's an important tool, considering the U.S. put a halt to its nuclear testing program in 1992.
In addition to national security applications, Sequoia will also be put to use study climate change, astronomy and the human genome.
The U.S. lost the top spot in computing power to the Chinese supercomputer Tianhe-1A in 2010. Before Sequoia, the most powerful domestic supercomputer was Jaguar in Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In last year's rankings, Jaguar came in third and Tianhe ranked fifth.
The Sequoia system is also notable for its advances in energy efficiency. It’s 91 percent liquid-cooled, according to Lawrence Livermore, compared to the more common historical method of cooling supercomputers, using extensive arrays of fans. This allows the Sequoia system to achieve more performance while simultaneously consuming less electricity, 7.9 megawatts compared to the Japanese K supercomputer’s 12.7 megawatts, as the blog Gizmag noted.
Still Seqouia is not the most energy-efficient machine on the list: That honor belongs to another IBM supercomputer that placed not far behind, at number 4, Germany’s recently-installed SuperMUC supercomputer located in Leibniz.
"It is a culmination of a lot of smart people working for a very long time, creating a lot of innovations to get you to this point," IBM vice president of high performance computing systems told USA Today of the three years in the making Sequoia project. "There aren't too many players in the world that can build a system like Sequoia."
Of the top 500 most powerful computer systems in the world, IBM was responsible for the construction of nearly half.
Recognition of the world's most powerful computer wasn't the only honor bestowed upon Livermore of late. Last week, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially added two new elements to the periodic table, and one of them was named after the East Bay town. Livermorium (symbol Lv) will now occupy the 116 spot on the table.
The Los Angeles Times explains that Livermorium was produced by shooting calcium ions into curium ions. Since heavy, man-made elements like Livermorium are highly unstable, atoms of the element only existed for 125 milliseconds.
Scientists at Livermore Labs were involved in the discovery of Livermorium as well as five other elements since the facility opened in the early 1950s.