Simply Beautiful: MareNorstum4 Supercomputer Sports 13.7 Petaflops

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Over at Lenovo, Gavin O’Hara writes that the world’s most beautiful supercomputer center now sports a 13.7 Petaflop system so novel in design that it has captured the attention of the global HPC community.  It landed at #13 on the TOP500 this week, and that’s just the beginning.

In a converted 19th-century church on the outskirts of Barcelona sits a computer so overwhelmingly powerful, it could someday save us all.

Save us from what? We’re not sure yet. But one day soon a scientific or medical research breakthrough will happen and its origins will be traced back to a glass-encased room inside the Torre Girona Chapel. Sitting within is a hulking mass of supercomputing power: a whopping 3,400 servers connected by 48 kilometers of cable and wire.

Torre Girona, nestled inside the Barcelona Supercomputing Center on the campus of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, was used as a Catholic Church until 1960. The church was deconsecrated in the 1970s but, the longer you spend here seeing how supercomputing speed can enable lightning-fast insight, the more you start to sense the presence of a higher power.

This is technology at its inquisitive best. And it all starts with the specs of the monster they call MareNostrum.


To consider the sheer power and scale of MareNostrum’s High Performance Computing capabilities is to test your own knowledge of large-scale counting units. You see, for supercomputing nerds it’s all about FLOPs, or Floating Point Operations/Second. The original MareNostrum 1, installed in 2004, had a calculation capacity of 42.35 teraflops/second. Which meant 42.35 trillion operations/second. Not bad, I guess, until you consider that the 2017 version (MareNostrum 4) blows that out of the water–it possesses 322 times the speed of the original.

The new supercomputer has a performance capacity of 13.7 petaflops/second and will be able to carry out 13,677 trillion operations per second,” says Lenovo VP Wilfredo Sotolongo as we gaze upwards inside the chapel. Sotolongo not only works closely with the BSC, he actually lives near Torre Girona in Barcelona.

As I try to get my head around all these unfamiliar units of measure, Sotolongo lays it out for me: “In computing, FLOPs are a measure of computer performance. Node performance…” My mind wanders a bit before I tune back in. “A petaflop is a measure of a computer’s processing speed and can be expressed as a quadrillion, or thousand trillion, floating point operations per second. A thousand teraflops. 10 to the 15th power FLOPs.” Etc etc.

He sees my head spinning so, mercifully, he simplifies it. “Basically, MareNostrum 4 is 10 times more powerful than MareNostrum 3.” OK, I can relate to that but I one-up him anyway: “How many times more powerful is it than my 2016 ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop?” He laughs. “About 11,000 times.” Gulp.

It’s Really About the Workloads

What kinds of workloads require the type of computing power found in the MareNostrum cluster? There are a lot, it turns out. Because HPC systems deliver results in a fraction of the time of a single desktop or workstation, they are of increasingly vital interest to researchers in science, engineering and business. They are all drawn by the possibility of solving sprawlingly complex problems in their respective fields.

Over the years, MareNostrum has been called on to serve more than 3,000 such projects. On any given day, as the Catalonian sun streams through the stained-glass windows of Torre Girona, MareNostrum manages mountains of data and spits out valuable nuggets of insight to a staff of more than 500 that could someday help solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges.

Gavin O’Hara leads Lenovo’s Global Social Content & Community team. He’s been with Lenovo since 2005 and, in 2010, became the second person in the company to do social media. He is a big believer in unselfish brand storytelling and lives by the mantra ‘people before products’. As Lenovo’s chief storyteller, he scours the Earth in search of the inspiring and the unexpected. In a previous life, he worked as a writer, journalist and musician. Gavin is a Virginia native, a Syracuse University graduate and a long-time North Carolina resident.

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