Supercomputers Still Push the Envelope

Both Sun and IBM presented at a high-performance computing conference in Dresden, Germany this week, showing they still have serious stake in the ethereal and ultra-fast world of supercomputing. Laptops they are not, but these supercomputers have more power than you could ever possibly need.

Andreas Bechtolsheim, the brilliant billionaire co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has developed a new supercomputer called the Constellation System, which is made up of more than 13,000 networked microprocessors. The Constellation is expected to perform at speeds of 500 teraflops. It's being installed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, located in Austin, Texas, and should be ready by October.

The primary challenge in developing a monster system like this, says Bechtolsheim, was getting the individual processors to share information quickly enough to solve the most complex computational problems. Modifying the data switches was his answer -- that and 18-hour workdays and collaborators spread across the globe.

Not to be outdone, IBM flexed its supercomputing muscle at the Dresden conference, presenting its petaflop-level supercomputer called the Blue Gene/P. The Blue Gene/P will run at a staggering 3 quadrillion operations per second -- or 3 petaflops. The U.S. Department of Energy will be the first Blue Gene/P customer later this year. Others, mostly European government agencies, will follow shortly thereafter.

These are some absolutely mind-boggling computational capabilities. Do you have any supercomputer experience? How do you think wildly cutting-edge technology like this filters down to the real world? Let me know at [email protected].

Big Blue Shells Out Big Green
In other Big Blue news, IBM just reached a $7 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding its alleged underreporting of stock performance. The questionable stock reports date back to 2000 in relation to IBM's retail services division that sells point-of-sale systems.

In arriving at the settlement, IBM neither confirmed nor denied any sketchy behavior (and PR people have plenty of experience neither confirming nor denying). It also promised not to violate SEC provisions in the future.

Once IBM sells a Blue Gene/P or two, that fine will seem like a drop in the bucket.

What's your take on the feds slapping Big Blue, Microsoft or any of the other tech giants with fines? Do you think it will make them follow all the rules and be good corporate citizens, or is it just a slap on the wrist? File your thoughts at [email protected].

Google Gives Up the World
Well, not really, but the next best thing. Google yesterday announced a new program called Google Earth Outreach, wherein it will make its wildly popular Google Earth mapping software easily accessible to nonprofit organizations.

Several of the program's first member organizations, like Earthwatch and Fair Trade Certified, are already dialed in and looking down at the Earth. Groups like that use Google Earth's detailed global mapping tools for environmental and humanitarian purposes, like tracking refugee movement or the effects of coastal erosion.

"The technologies we're developing can be an important catalyst for education, sharing information, advocacy and to address global and local issues that affect everyone around the world," said Elliot Schrage, vice president of global communications for Google.

The popularity and myriad uses of the Google Earth technology has surprised even the Googlers themselves. "We didn't see the majority of uses for Google Earth," said John Hanke, director of the Google's Earth and Maps department. "It's blown away everybody on the team."

Interested nonprofits can apply directly to the Google Outreach Program for grants to use Google Earth and receive ongoing tech support.

Have you ever used Google Earth? What do you think of this unprecedented view of the world? Besides the fact that it's really cool, do you feel -- as some do -- that it should be restricted to prevent inappropriate or illegal use (as GPS technology was when it first came out)? Find me at my office outside of Boston at [email protected]. If you see a Subaru with a kayak on the roof in the parking lot, you'll know I'm there.

Mailbag: A Non-MS OS?, More on Microsoft-Google Search Spat
Yesterday, after news that the Longhorn Reloaded project has been shut down, Peter asked readers if they'd rather have an independent Windows OS. Here are some of your thoughts:

Would I like having an independent version of a Windows operating system? What a concept. We already have five flavors...kind of like Linux.

Yes, I want that!

I most assuredly would like that.

I really would like to see this piece of software and learn more about the subject.

I think the idea of a non-MS Windows OS is cute and everything, but it would be a HUGE NIGHTMARE for all involved. One has to look at the entire universe of issues before declaring this a quite grand thing to do.

I would like to have my computer boot to a menu of applications. Depending on the software application, when I click the app, it would load in a virtual window under the native operating system that optimizes its performance. So in one virtual window, I would have Outlook running under XP, Firefox under Mint Linux, Stellarian in BSD, Safari under Mac/OS, etc. When I insert a CD to install the software, it would know the operating system to install it under or I could choose.

Probably would be a nightmare to create but it intrigues me. Kind of a quadruple boot loader but a menu of applications on the front end. Sounds crazy, I know!


Michael chimes in with his 2 cents about the Microsoft-Google fight over Vista's default search:

I do not agree with Google saying that it's hard to configure or change the default -- at least from a technician's standpoint. I do agree with the fact that the typical end user is not going to take the time to change the default settings in IE7. However, folks that use Google -- and I have seen this happen here at the university -- will install Google desktop or the toolbar not knowing about the search features built into IE7. I had to send an e-mail out explaining this more than once.

I think Google should pick a different issue to go after M$ -- like why does spellcheck not see "Google" as a word and try to change it to "Goggle." This has to be Redmond conspiracy.

Meanwhile, readers volunteered their own desktop search strategies:

My strategy: If you put files/documents where they belong, you won't lose them, so you won't have to search for them. Yes, I do use search in e-mail, but desktop -- no.

At work, we are not allowed to install anything, so we get what is in the OS. Since that OS currently is XP, that means zip. Well, the Explorer search, for whatever good that does. At home, however, I use the FREE, ultra-fast and very simple to use FindAndRunRobot developed by Mouser at A simple ctrl+space brings up the search window and I type in the word for what I am looking for. It is almost always the top choice before I write half the word. It also will allow plug-ins to extend its functionality in its next release which is due out very soon. Best of all, it doesn't suffer from all this bickering that could be better used making the software better instead.

And finally, count Steve as someone who won't be lining up for an iPhone this week:

As soon as the iPhone deploys Windows Mobile 6, we will be purchasing over 400 of them. Until then, forget it!

Got something to add? Let us have it! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to [email protected].

About the Author

Lafe Low is the editorial liaison for ECG Events.


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