In 2008, at a cost of US$133 million dollars, IBM built Roadrunner, a supercomputer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, USA, designed to model the decay of the US nuclear weapons arsenal. Roadrunner was a hybrid supercomputer consisting of 296 server racks and122,400 processor cores covering 6000 square feet. The hybrid architecture used IBM PowerXCell 8i CPUs (an enhanced version of the Sony PlayStation 3 processor) and AMD Opteron dual-core processors. The AMD processors handled basic tasks, with the Cell CPUs taking on the most computationally intense parts of a calculation.
Roadrunner was far ahead of its competition at the time and was the first supercomputer capable of more than one petaflop of performance. It held the top spot in the Top 500 supercomputer list in in June 2008, November 2008, and for one last time in June 2009.
Today, Roadrunner has been declared obsolete and will be dismantled.
The Los Alamos lab said in an announcement,
During its five operational years, Roadrunner, part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program to provide key computer simulations for the Stockpile Stewardship Program, was a workhorse system providing computing power for stewardship of the US nuclear deterrent, and in its early shakedown phase, a wide variety of unclassified science.
Although other hybrid computers existed, none were at the supercomputing scale. Many doubted that a hybrid supercomputer could work, so for Los Alamos and IBM, Roadrunner was a leap of faith. As part of its Stockpile Stewardship work, Roadrunner took on a difficult, long-standing gap in understanding of energy flow in a weapon and its relation to weapon yield.
Future supercomputers will need to improve on Roadrunner’s energy efficiency to make the power bill affordable. Future supercomputers will also need new solutions for handling and storing the vast amounts of data involved in such massive calculations.
Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory