Some of the leading minds behind the fastest and largest supercomputers ever designed are in Dallas all week for SC18, an annual conference on high-performance computing.
Nearly 13,000 people are participating in SC18, which takes up about 9 football fields full of space in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
Some of the real-world applications for the supercomputing innovations on display include the potential to more accurately predict and warn people about impending natural disasters, and the ability to bring lifesaving prescription drugs to market far quicker and for much less money.
“These [supercomputers] are just a glimpse into the future of what is going to be commercially everywhere within a few years,” said Sumit Gupta, who works in Artificial Intelligence and High Performance Computing at IBM Systems. “So what used to be the number one supercomputer five years ago is today running our mobile apps, what’s running weather simulations. That technology, within a few years, comes down to technology that impacts our lives.”
SC18 is a victory lap of sorts for IBM, which is hot on the heels of developing the top two supercomputers in the world, according to the 52nd edition of the TOP500 list, just released this month.
A portion of IBM’s ‘Summit’ supercomputer is on display at SC18, including the cooling equipment for its quantum processor — it resembles an ornate chandelier. The cooling system is capable of producing extremely cold temperatures that are colder than outer space.
The ‘Summit’ supercomputer is the result of upwards of 20 years of research, according to Gupta.
“It is the world’s fastest supercomputer now. It is a supercomputer so powerful that it is equal to having one million laptops,” Gupta said.
For Dallas to even be a viable host for SC18, the conference needed to install a serious upgrade to the internet bandwidth capability inside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. It took a team of industry professionals about a month to lay approximately 65 miles worth of fiber optic cable — 2 miles of that cable will be a permanent installation.
“We have demonstrations at some of the booths that are featured here this week that will push several terabytes of information,” said Jason Zarowski, a computer engineer for the Energy Sciences Network at the Lawrence Berkley National Lab. “And if we want to put an actual number or a thought into that we calculated that we can download the entire Netflix catalog in about :45 seconds.”