IBM to Build World's First Cell Broadband Engine Based Supercomputer

Story by Farid - Wednesday 06th September 2006, 06:06:00 PM

WASHINGTON, DC - 06 Sep 2006: The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has selected IBM to design and build the world's first supercomputer to harness the immense power of the Cell Broadband Engineâ„¢ (Cell B.E.) processor aiming to produce a machine capable of a sustained speed of up to 1,000 trillion calculations per second, or one petaflop.

The 'hybrid' supercomputer, codenamed Roadrunner, will be installed at DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory. In a first-of-a-kind design, Cell B.E. chips -- originally designed for video game platforms -- will work in conjunction with systems based on x86 processors from Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD).

Designed specifically to handle a broad spectrum of scientific and commercial applications, the supercomputer design will include new, highly sophisticated software to orchestrate over 16,000 AMD Opteronâ„¢ processor cores and over 16,000 Cell B.E. processors in tackling some of the most challenging problems in computing today. The revolutionary supercomputer will be capable of a peak performance of over 1.6 petaflops (or 1.6 thousand trillion calculations per second).

The machine is to be built entirely from commercially available hardware and based on the Linux® operating system. IBM® System x™ 3755 servers based on AMD Opteron technology will be deployed in conjunction with IBM BladeCenter® H systems with Cell B.E. technology. Each system used is designed specifically for high performance implementations.

Designed also with space and power consumption issues in mind, the system will employ advanced cooling and power management technologies and will occupy only 12,000 square feet of floor space, or approximately the size of three basketball courts.

New Era of Industry Supercomputing

Roadrunner's construction will involve the creation of advanced "Hybrid Programming" software which will orchestrate the Cell B.E.-based system and AMD system and will inaugurate a new era of heterogeneous technology designs in supercomputing. These innovations, created collaboratively among IBM and LANL engineers will allow IBM to deploy mixed-technology systems to companies of all sizes, spanning industries such as life sciences, financial services, automotive and aerospace design.

How it Works

Roadrunner's hybrid design will allow the system to segment complex mathematical equations, routing each segment to the part of the system that can most efficiently handle it. Typical compute processes, file IO, and communication activity will be handled by AMD Opteron processors while more complex and repetitive elements -- ones that traditionally consume the majority of supercomputer resources -- will be directed to the more than 16,000 Cell B.E. processors. Designed originally for gaming platforms, where intense graphics and real-time responsiveness are key, the Cell B.E. processor is ideal to speed Roadrunner through intense mathematical problems.

"This new supercomputer demonstrates a commitment to achieve a major advance in technological capability that will help enable scientists and businesses solve the most challenging problems," said Bill Zeitler, senior vice president, IBM Systems and Technology Group. "Los Alamos is a valued partner as we embark on this exciting journey."

"This installation with Los Alamos and IBM demonstrates the compelling benefits from industry leaders innovating around an open platform; in this case IBM and AMD collaborating in the use of AMD Opteron and the Cell B.E. processor to build powerful systems for highly specific Los Alamos Labs workloads," said Marty Seyer, senior vice president, Commercial Segment, AMD. "This is an excellent demonstration of Torrenza in action -- building on the performance and performance-per-watt advantages AMD delivers to create incredible value in leveraging HyperTransport technology to redefine how different systems, based on different processor platforms, can communicate with each other to solve some of the most complex computing problems."

IBM will begin shipping the new supercomputer to the DOE facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory later this year, with completion of the installation and acceptance anticipated in 2008.

Based on the Power Architectureâ„¢, the Cell B.E. processor was developed in collaboration with IBM, Sony Corporation, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (Sony and Sony Computer Entertainment collectively referred to as Sony Group), and Toshiba Corporation.

About IBM
For more information on IBM, please visit

About Los Alamos
Los Alamos National Laboratory (, operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC for the US Department of Energy, works in partnership with National Nuclear Security Administration's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission. Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to defense, energy, environment, infrastructure, health and national security concerns.


cpu ± ibm, cell