The fastest supercomputer. The most intriguing data center. The constantly changing core at the heart of Linux. Take a tour of the most impressive and most unusual marvels of the IT world.
By C.G. Lynch
First, there were the Seven Wonders of the World. Then there was a New Seven Wonders list, voted on Internet-style. That got us thinking: What are the seven wonders of the IT world? Here’s a look at seven of the biggest, most extreme and most unusual computers and projects. By the way, do you have a vote for an eighth wonder? Tell us about it by commenting at the end of this story.
Computer Closest to the North Pole:
Who’s in charge: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory takes care of this floating eye at the top of the world.
Make and model: NetCam XL, made by StarDot Technologies.
Proximity to the pole: Varies. “Since the North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, we deploy our instrumentation on an ice floe as close to the pole as we can,” says Nancy Soreide, associate director for IT at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “However, the ice floe does not stay at or near the pole. It drifts.”
How it works: The webcam’s container stands on a metal apparatus, on top of a piece of plywood and the ice. A battery floats beneath the ice surface, powering the webcam, which sends back pictures via satellite.
Prime time: Runs only during the balmier months, between April and October.
Life span: Think Titanic—at the end of each year’s season, the webcam sinks, and is replaced by a newer model.
Operating temperature: From a chilly minus 40 degrees F to a balmy 120 degrees F.
Resolution: 2048 by 1536 (3.1 megapixels).
Weight: 19.5 ounces.
Dimensions: 3.25 inches wide (82.5 millimeters) by 2.20 inches high (56 millimeters) by 6.6 inches deep (167 millimeters).
On the scene: Lots of ice but no Santa sightings or flying reindeer, to date.
Location: The Dalles, Oregon, on the banks of the Columbia River, 80 miles east of Portland.
Main attractions: Hydroelectric dam for power, two four-story cooling towers.
B.G. (Before Google): Pioneers knew The Dalles as the end of the Oregon trail.
Jobs inside the data center to date: Between 100 and 200. Google won’t specify.
Code name: Called Project 02 by the locals.
Wired by: A fiber optic artery looped through the surrounding wilderness.
Secrecy level: High. Two reporters from the local newspaper are the only media who’ve been inside the compound and written about it (See “Inside the World of Google”): Google treats any and all details as though they belong to the National Security Agency.
Size: 30-acre site.
Number of servers: Google’s mum. It has an estimated 500,000 around the world, spread across 25 locations.
Storage: Across all its data centers, Google stores an estimated 200 petabytes.
Top searches inside the compound: We’d bet it’s a tie between “Britney Spears” and “Web 2.0.”
World’s largest scientific grid computing project:
The E-sciencE II (EGEE-II) project
Launched: September 2006, for use by scientists around the world.
Helps power: Large-scale scientific research projects in fields from geology to chemistry—for example, will analyze data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator being built to help investigate details around the Big Bang and related physics questions.
Amount of work it does: 98,000 jobs a day, more than 1 million per month.
Juggling ability: Runs about 30,000 jobs concurrently, on average.
Number of sites connected to the EGEE infrastructure: About 240.
Number of countries connected to the EGEE infrastructure: 45.
Number of CPUs available to users, 24/7: More than 36,000.
Storage capacity available: About 5 PB disk space (5 million GB).
Home base: This 2,500-square-foot marvel lives at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.
Claim to fame: Helps researchers answer physics questions about stockpiled nuclear weapons and materials like Plutonium.
Power requirements: 1.5 megawatts (equivalent to a 2,000-horsepower diesel engine).
Clocked speed: Rated fastest in the world after clocking sustained performance of 280.6 trillion operations per second, or teraflops.
Approximate cost: As part of a larger contract including other supercomputers, just under $100 million.
Measure of compute capability: To match the power of this behemoth, every man, woman and child on Earth would need to perform 60,000 calculations per second (without transposing digits or forgetting to “carry the one”).
Brawny bandwidth: Its internal communication network would support 150 simultaneous phone conversations for every person in the United States.
Waiting in the wings: IBM has announced a successor, Blue Gene/P, designed to deliver three times the processing power of the Blue Gene/L.