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#HPC Matters: What Would You Do with an Exaflop?

Rich Brueckner

Rich Brueckner

In this Industry Perspective, insideHPC editor Rich Brueckner asks our readers an important question: What Would You Do with an Exaflop?

The SC14 conference this year is centered around the theme of HPC Matters. You can help carry this message by producing your own #HPCMatters videos, and maybe even win yourself a free pass for the conference.

When I talk to people in the know, discussions of why HPC Matters tend to veer off into the future and the scientific breakthroughs that will be made possible by Exascale computing. And if you leave off the part about high energy physics, concrete examples seem to be few and far between.

Hemo_650So I went looking for such exascale use cases this morning, and I found this remarkable story in Harvard Topics Magazine about how an exascale system could predict heart attacks and artery blockage.

Someday soon, the surgeon might run a detailed computer simulation of blood flowing through the patient’s arteries, showing how millions of red blood cells jostle and tumble through the small vessels. The simulation would identify the best repair strategy. With a fast enough computer, it could all be done in a few minutes, while the operation is under way. This is the vision of Efthimios Kaxiras, the John Hasbrouck Van Vleck Professor of Pure and Applied Physics. As leader of an interdisciplinary research group, he has built just such a simulation of “hemodynamics,” tracing the movements of several million blood cells through the filigree network of coronary arteries that supply oxygen to the heart muscle. But simulating just one second of blood flow—the duration of a single human heartbeat—took five hours on one of the world’s fastest supercomputers a few years ago. If such models are to transform medical practice, they will need computers that run a thousand times faster.

I believe that stories like this are the key to communicating the impact HPC has our lives and how powerful it can become in the future.

To find more stories like this, I’d like to poll our readers.

What would you do with an Exaflop? Tweet your answers with the hashtag: #WhyAnExaflop?

If this sounds familiar, it may be because we tried a similar campaign called “What Would You Do With a Teraflop?” back at Sun Microsystems in 2007. Now, all we have to do is increase it by several orders of magnitude.

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