For some, a flop is a Broadway play that didn’t do well at the box office. For others, the term conjures the vision of a high-jumper executing the ubiquitous Fosbury technique. For the scientific elite, it is an acronym for Floating Point Operation.
The appeal of modern computers is basically two-fold; they can automate the tedious task of mathematically crunching numbers, and they can do it REALLY fast. Just how fast is at the core of the “mine is better than yours” debate that scientists eternally engage in.
Computers are used for all sorts of advanced STEM-stuff, so this debate is much more than frivolous byte-envy. Just as the first caveman to sharpen a rock had an advantage against wild boars, so does the nation with the fastest computers lead the pack in technological prowess.
These days, Titan is the most powerful supercomputer in the U.S. It lives at the Oak Ridge National Lab, where it works on advanced materials, fuels, weather patterns and other stuff they won’t talk about. It crunches numbers at the astounding rate of 17.59 petaflops. If you could solve a math problem in one second, you would be considered really bright. In the same time, Titan could solve nearly 18 million-billion of them. Titan is potent, marvelous, wicked-fast and in the worldwide scheme of things, second best.
For the fifth straight year, Tiahne-2, at 33.86 petaflops, is the world’s fastest supercomputer. We can only guess what its workload might consist of; it resides at the Chinese National University of Defense Technology.