From Oil to a Borg Cube Made of a Million Computers: Saudi's Leapfrog to Top of Supercomputing Powers
Saudi Arabia is pretty well off, what with owning about a quarter of all the petroleum on the planet. They have a budget surplus of over forty-eight billion dollars while many Americans don't know that words other than "deficit" can go after "budget". However, many on the Web 2.0 are keen to say that information is the new currency - so Saudi is just going to buy the ability to make some. They can afford it.
The Saudi government is buying a hectoteraflopping megacomputer for the newly commissioned King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). If you don't know what a teraflop is, just imagine a row of a hundred desktop computers. Now imagine a hundred of those rows. Then a stack of a hundred of those squares - in fact, to save time, just imagine a Borg cube made of a million computers.
The newly founded KAUST plans to leapfrog to the forefront of computational research with this megamachine, named the "Shaheen" - the Arabic word for falcon - and due to be one of the top ten processors or the planet. The name may well be a snipe at IBM's "Roadrunner" - currently number one on the same list. The Shaheen won't compare to it when first built, but with plans to expand up into the exaflop range (one quintillion floating point computations per second) that could only be a matter of time.
If any can beat IBM's super-system, it'll certainly be the builders of the Shaheen - who are also IBM. The supercomputer is being assembled in New York and the minor matter that US companies are forbidden to sell high-tech to Saudi Arabia isn't expected to be a problem. Things like that generally aren't for countries with fifty billion dollars to spare.
With computer simulation becoming useful in a wider variety of fields than ever, from nanotechnology to energy research (though it's unlikely the world's premier oil economy is going to be working on fusion power), this system could work to attract international academics to a region they might otherwise avoid.
Posted by Luke McKinney.
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