Big Blue vs. Big Red? IBM Battles China for World's Fastest Supercomputer Title

Does IBM feel the need for speed?

China currently holds the title of world's fastest supercomputer, a boast-worthy title that swelled Chinese chests back in October. But China had better get ready: IBM is gunning for them.

Big Blue recently announced plans to build a new Blue Gene/Q supercomputer named "Mira," which will operate four times as fast as China's speediest bullet PC. Tianhe-1, China's current record holder, is capable of powering through 2.507 "petaflops" per second -- that's 2,507 trillion calculations per second. IBM claims its computer will hit 10 petaflops, or 10 quadrillion calculations per second.

To put that number in perspective, if every man, woman and child in the United States performed one calculation each second, it would take them almost a year to do as many calculations as Mira will do in a single second.

All that power won't be wasted on solitaire and video games, of course. IBM said it would offer the stunningly speedy system to the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, where it will be used to design ultra-efficient electric car batteries, understand global climate change and explore the evolution of our universe.

"Computation and supercomputing are critical to solving some of our greatest scientific challenges, like advancing clean energy and understanding the Earth's climate," said Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for computing, environment and life sciences at Argonne National Laboratory. "Argonne's new IBM supercomputer will help address the critical demand for complex modeling and simulation capabilities, which are essential to improving our economic prosperity and global competitiveness."

President Barack Obama's recent state of the union address highlighted the need to provide cutting edge scientists and inventors with the support they need. He cited international competition in the technology arena, arguing that faster supercomputers here in the U.S. may help us compete.

"At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities," the president said. "With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015."

IBM has two computers on the latest list the world's fastest computers, the Department of Energy's Roadrunner system in 7th place and Germany-research group FZJ's JUGENE, in 9th. The company plans to have Mira operational in 2012 and made available to scientists from industry, academia and government research facilities around the world. Let's hope this new system can turn those Argone's computing dreams into reality.