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Supercomputing Hits 33.86 Petaflops/IBM’s Watson Expands Commercial Applications for Big Data, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The claim to the title of the world’s fastest computer is a moving target.  By June 2022, China was estimated by trackers of the “Top500” supercomputers list to have grown its base of such computers to 173 machines, up from only 37 in early 2015.  This ranked China ahead of the U.S., as America had about 128 units, down considerably from 169 systems as of late 2016.  In 2023, the U.S. once again had the highest number of computers with 161 compared to China’s 104.  Massive, supercomputing systems are very costly, both to develop and to operate.  However, the growing use of cloud computing strategies means that more users can take advantage of one system, such as IBM’s Watson.
Hi-level IT teams understand the need to work on new, advanced systems in order to avoid falling behind in areas where strong computing matters most, such as simulating complex systems like weather forecasting, and biotechnology projects like protein folding, as well as for the most advanced artificial intelligence projects.  Simulation capability is vital for national security (for example, where simulations take the place of underground testing for weapons of mass destruction) and the advancement of basic science.
Speeds multiplied dramatically in recent years.  As of November 2023, the Frontier system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the U.S. was considered to be ranked at the top, reaching 1,194 petaflops (or 1.194 exaflops).  It was followed by Aurora at Argonne National Laboratory, also in the U.S., reaching 585.34 petaflops.  Third is the Eagle system at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the U.S., reaching 561.2 petaflops, followed by the Supercomputer Fugaku at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science in Japan reaching 442.0 petaflops.  The LUMI system at EuroHPC center at CSC in Finland, performing at 379.7 petaflops, was number five.
Aurora, an HPE Cray exascale system installed in 2023 and only partly functional, is expected to reach a peak performance of 2 exaflops when fully completed.  Aurora will utilize AI to attempt to address new areas of supercomputing research including cancer, nuclear fission, vaccines and other complex technologies.
IBM, which developed a computer called “Watson” that achieved fame when it beat all human contestants on the Jeopardy! television game show, is also working to make complex computing services easily available.  Watson quickly evolved to the point that it offers cloud-based computational services, such as image recognition, and text-to-speech generation, delivered over the internet.  IBM is supporting several advanced, Watson-based services available via its Watson business unit.  These are essentially artificial intelligence (AI) software services that can be of vital assistance in projects involving big data/data mining, speech recognition, pattern recognition and “reasoning” in a vaguely human-like manner.  The firm states that thousands of software developers worldwide are taking advantage of Watson’s capabilities.  Some efforts are as simple as e-commerce firms attempting to boost their sales.  More advanced applications include medical research at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic, as well as investment and banking tools.
Government and corporate customers alike will benefit from this race.  While aerospace and biotech firms want supercomputing power for breakthrough research, government agencies benefit from supercomputers for a wide variety of needs.  Additionally, major manufacturers in such areas as automobiles and health imaging equipment see supercomputers as a tool for improved product engineering and faster time-to-market.

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