Can Ultrascale Computing Remain Sustainable?

By Alexander Hellemans

Over the last three decades, we have witnessed an enormous increase in the processing power of supercomputers, with gains in speed of roughly three orders of magnitude every 10 years. From gigaflops in the mid-1980s, computers reached teraflop speeds in the mid-1990s, and petaflop speeds at the end of the first decade of this millennium. The next logical step, an exaflop computer, is still quite a distance away as evidenced by the fact that China’s NUDT Tianhe-2 supercomputer cranks out 33.86 petaflops.

The Tianhe-2 runs on 24 megawatts of electricity, and extrapolations show that the energy consumption of an exaflop computer using today’s technology would require the entire output of a power station—clearly an option that is not sustainable.  …[Read more]