What are supercomputers currently used for?

Supercomputers conjure up the image of those massive, hulking, overheating machines that were the world’s introduction to computing — the ones that took up huge amounts of space to spit out computation after computation. You might be surprised to find out that even with the ubiquitous nature of the personal PC and network systems, supercomputers are still used in a variety of operations. In the next few pages, we’ll give you the skinny on what supercomputers are and how they still function in several industrial and scientific areas.

First, a little background. What makes a supercomputer so extraordinary? Well, the definition is a bit hard to pin down. Essentially, a supercomputer is any computer that’s one of the most powerful, fastest systems in the world at any given point in time. As technology progresses, supercomputers must up the ante as well.

For instance, the first supercomputer was the aptly named Colossus, housed in Britain. It was designed to read messages and crack the German code during the second World War, and it could read up to 5,000 characters a second. Sounds impressive, right? Not to denigrate the Colossus’ hard work, but compare that to the NASA Columbia supercomputer that completes 42 and a half trillion operations per second. In other words, what used to be a supercomputer now could qualify as a satisfactory calculator, and what we currently call supercomputers are as advanced as any computer can get.

There are, however, a few things that make a computer branch into “super” territory. It will usually have more than one central processing unit (CPU), which allows the computer to do faster circuit switching and accomplish more tasks at once. (Because of this, a supercomputer will also have an enormous amount of storage so that it can access many tasks at a time.) It will also have the capability to do vector arithmetic, which means that it can calculate multiple lists of operations instead of just one at a time.

Now that we have a little background on supercomputers, let’s check out what a few of them do.

Meet the Supercomputers

As we said, supercomputers were originally developed for code cracking, as well as ballistics. They were designed to make an enormous amount of calculations at a time, which was a big improvement over, say, 20 mathematics graduate students in a room, hand-scratching operations.

In some ways, supercomputers are still used for those ends. In 2012, the National Nuclear Security Administration and Purdue University began using a network of supercomputers to simulate nuclear weapons capability. A whopping 100,000 machines are used for the testing .

But it’s not just the military that’s using supercomputers anymore. Whenever you check the weather app on your phone, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is using a supercomputer called the Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System to forecast weather, predict weather events, and track space and oceanic weather activity as well .

As of September 2012, the fastest computer in the world — for now, anyway — is IBM’s Sequoia machine, which can operate 16.32 petaflops a second. That’s 16,000 trillion operations, to you. It’s used for nuclear weapon security and to make large-scale molecular dynamics calculations .

But supercomputers aren’t just somber, intellectual machines. Some of them are used for fun and games – literally. Consider World of Warcraft, the wildly popular online game. If a million people are playing WoW at a time, graphics and speed are of utmost importance. Enter the supercomputers, used to make the endless calculations that help the game go global.

Speaking of games, we can’t forget Deep Blue, the supercomputer that beat chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match in 1997. And then there’s Watson, the IBM supercomputer that famously beat Ken Jennings in an intense game of Jeopardy. Currently, Watson is being used by a health insurer to predict patient diagnoses and treatments . A real jack of all trades, that Watson.

So, yes: We’re still benefiting from supercomputers. We’re using them when we play war video games and in actual war. They’re helping us predict if we need to carry an umbrella to work or if we need to undergo an EKG. And as the calculations become faster, there’s little end to the possibility of how we’ll use supercomputers in the future.

 

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Get Happy! – Reducing Internet Latency

Latency is an increasingly important topic for networking researchers and Internet users alike. Whether trying to provide platforms for Web applications, high frequency stock trading, multi-player online gaming or ‘cloud’ services of any kind, latency is a critical factor in determining end-user satisfaction and the success of products in the marketplace. Data from Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others indicate that latency increases for interactive Web applications result in less usage and less revenue from sales or advertising income. Consequently, latency and variation in latency are key performance metrics for services these days.

But latency reduction is not just about increasing revenues for big business. Matt Mullenweg of WordPress motivates work on latency reduction well when he says, “My theory here is when an interface is faster, you feel good. And ultimately what that comes down to is you feel in control. The [application] isn’t controlling me, I’m controlling it. Ultimately that feeling of control translates to happiness in everyone. In order to increase the happiness in the world, we all have to keep working on this.”

Latency tends to have been sacrificed in favour of headline bandwidth in the way the Internet has been built. Later this year, together with the RITE ProjectSimula Research Labs and the TimeIn Project, we are sponsoring a two-day invitation-only workshop that aims to galvanise action to fix that. All layers of the stack are in scope.

More details about the workshop and how to submit a position paper are available here. Deadline for receipt of position papers is June 23.

Future-proofing Broadband: IPv6 and Security Needs for Your Network

Broadband networks are key to meeting our vision at the Internet Society:

The Internet is for everyone. And key to broadband networks’ growth and health are network addresses, given the shrinking pool of old-school IPv4 addresses, and dealing with constant security threats. There are real and important advances on both fronts that we’re excited to bring to this, our third year at the Broadband World Forum.

IPv6

By now you’ve heard about IPv6 – the not-so-new Internet Protocol that provides over 340 undecillion IP addresses – and we hope many of you have deployed it on your networks already.

Had you noticed that the world’s largest content is already available over IPv6 – including the top 5 Alexa websites: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo!, Wikipedia? Netflix and YouTube both deliver content over IPv6 and they have a large share of bandwidth consumed on the global Internet.  

And, while it’s been a slow start to IPv6 deployment, we’ve seen huge changes since our first trip to BBWF.

  • 2011: World IPv6 Day had just occurred where Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! enabled IPv6 on their main websites for a 24-hour ‘test flight’ (and then turned it off). Some broadband providers had begun their deployments, but numbers were limited and experience was just starting to grow. 
  • 2012: World IPv6 Launch had begun and Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, YouTube, and Wikipedia, the five most-visited websites in the world, and thousands more had enabled IPv6 permanently. Broadband providers were rolling out substantial deployments. 
  • 2013: A year+ after World IPv6 Launch, monthly measurements are showing real progress happening at ISPs, equipment manufacturers, website providers, and enterprise organizations all across the globe.

During the IP Evolution Track on Tuesday at BBWF, we’re putting together an IPv6-focused session that will bring together several operators to share their experiences on how they deployed IPv6, the challenges they faced and overcame, and the successes they’ve enjoyed since.

Moving network traffic from IPv4 to IPv6 is the only way to alleviate pressures caused by the global depletion of available IPv4 addresses and prevent the need for expensive and unreliable Carrier Grade NATs (CGNs).

 

Security Workshop

We also work in the area of Internet security – everything from domain name security to email security to general network security. High profile DDOS attacks disrupt operations and grab headlines (and not the good kind). Routing infrastructure abuses and even innocent misconfigurations can be quite disruptive to a network. And spam! We’re still trying to eliminate spam from our inboxes, avoid phishing scams, and figure out how to know if and when we can trust the source of the emails we get every day.

All of these issues cost time, money, and customer confidence; a secure and resilient network is vital to continuing your existing operations and growing your businesses. With so much interconnection and interdependency on the global Internet, we must manage risk collaboratively to achieve effective security for everyone. An open Internet unveils tremendous benefits for the economy and society in general, and for individual businesses in particular. But it also brings new security challenges and risks that must be managed carefully.

Join us in Content Hub 2 on Tuesday as experts in these areas discuss the latest security issues, possible and potential solutions, and how to protect your systems, networks, employees, and customers. We’ll also discuss the role of corporate responsibility in reducing risk to the overall Internet – even when there’s no immediate business case for “doing the right thing” for the future of the Internet.

 

Readers’ Choice Awards 2013: Smartphones and Mobile Carriers

Is your smartphone the best? Is your carrier the worst? Find out which manufacturers and carriers your fellow PCMag readers think provide the most satisfying mobile service and products.

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MOBILE OPERATING SYSTEMS

With phones based on Google’s Android operating system and Apple’s iOS commanding nearly 90 percent of all smartphone sales, some might ask why Microsoft keeps trying. Apparently, the company feels the smartphone can be done better. And maybe it’s right. According to our survey respondents, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 clearly bests Apple and Android. In 2012, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 shared the Readers’ Choice Award for mobile phone platforms with Apple’s iOS. This year, Microsoft’sWindows Phone 8 stands alone at the top, relegating Apple’s iOS to Honorable Mention.

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Red denotes Readers’ Choice. Blue denotes Honorable Mention.

 

Readers’ Choice satisfaction is measured on a scale from zero (worst) to ten (best). Average satisfaction ratings of 9.0 or higher are few and far between and that’s why we’re so impressed with Windows Phone 8’s ratings. Phones with Microsoft’s latest OS received an overall satisfaction rating of 9.0 and a “likelihood to recommend” rating of 9.2. Other scores of 9.0 or higher include satisfaction with reliability (9.2), text messaging (9.3), email (9.3), and Web browsing (9.0).

It’s not pure euphoria for Windows Phone 8 users. Respondents realize that the platform still needs to grow its ecosystem, especially when it comes to apps. Satisfaction with availability of apps scored only 7.4, lagging far behind Apple’s very impressive 9.4 and Android’s 8.8. Customer satisfaction with the quality of the apps was better (8.3), but it still trailed Apple (9.1) and Android (8.8).

While Apple’s ratings remain strong, the company did not improve in anymeasure compared with 2012. Many ratings remained unchanged and a few slipped. Overall satisfaction decreased slightly from 8.7 in 2012 to 8.6 this year and likelihood to recommend dropped from 9.2 to 8.9. Apple’s iOS remains a highly regarded platform, but the company is clearly facing more significant competition than it has in past years. This may account for its lack of upward movement.

As in 2012, Android remains a distant third, with an overall satisfaction rating of 8.1 and likelihood to recommend rating of 8.3. However, these are both improvements over last year’s 7.9 and 8.2, respectively. In general, Android’s other satisfaction measures are fairly strong; its only ratings under 8.0 are in satisfaction as a music player (7.8) and satisfaction for gaming (7.5).

You might argue that Microsoft’s ratings are so high because the platform is new and satisfaction with products tends to wane over time as products become dated. That’s fair, but even when we look at satisfaction with devices less than a year old, Windows Phone 8 leads the way. Even more notable, Android satisfaction increases substantially among newer phones, indicating that the Readers’ Choice Award competition may be even tighter in 2014.

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In addition to asking our respondents to rate satisfaction, we asked them why they chose their particular phone. Readers’ considerations tended to vary when purchasing a phone with a particular OS. For instance, 56 percent of Android users who purchased their smartphone in the last year cited display size or display quality as a primary reason for choosing their phone. For Apple, only 23 percent of customers noted that as a reason, likely due, in part, to the fact that Apple phones have smaller screens (and less screen size options) than Android smartphones.

On the other hand, Apple users said availability of apps and ease of use were significant driving factors. Neither of those characteristics were cited as key by many Android users. About a third of Android users pointed to product reviews as part of what helped them make their choice; only 15 percent of Apple users said the same. Meanwhile, 44 percent of Apple users indicated ease of use was important compared with only 15 percent of Android users.

The chart below shows the percentage of Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 8 users who chose the platform based on a specific motivator. As you can see, the results paint very distinctive portraits of what motivates customers for each platform.

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With each platform appealing to users with different needs, there will continue to be room in the market for several platform choices—and 2013 promises to give us just that. BlackBerry has arguably stuck around this long purely because of legacy corporate use. However it has recently introduced the generally well-received Blackberry Z10& based on the new Blackberry 10 operating system, and that may breathe new life into the platform. Even the Mozilla Foundation is stepping into the game, introducing the first Firefox OS phone at the recent Mobile World Congress. But one of the stories we’ll watch most closely this year is Microsoft’s attempt to build on the indisputable success it’s had satisfying the early adopters of Windows Phone 8.

 

WINNERS: MOBILE OPERATING SYSTEMS

MICROSOFT

All eyes may be on Apple and Google these days, but Microsoft has delivered a mobile platform–Windows Phone 8, that bests both of those companies in user satisfaction. It delivers to its users on nearly every aspect of the mobile phone experience.

APPLE

Apple pretty much created the modern smartphone market and its customers continue to be very satisfied with the ease of use and app ecosystem that the iOS platform provides.

Android 4.3 Jelly Bean Update: Samsung Galaxy S4 And Galaxy S3 Confirmed For Update, Galaxy Note 2 Likely

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Older Samsung Galaxy devices will receive updates to be compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch. Samsung

 

The unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has prompted Samsung to discuss several of its older devices and whether they will receive an update to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.

 

While the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 will introduce the Android 4.3 operating system to Samsung, many owners have been anxious to know when their devices will see an update from older versions of Android Jelly Bean.

Following the Galaxy Note 3 unveiling, Samsung announced that the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Samsung Galaxy S3 will receive Android 4.3 updates in October. The Korean manufacturer was not specific about its plans for the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, but it did mention during its Unpacked event on Wednesday that the support software for older devices including the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2 for the newly unveiled Galaxy Gear smart watch will soon roll out.

Since Android 4.3 Jelly Bean includes Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity, which allows handsets to connect to external accessories, many expect that all of these older devices will need Android 4.3 in order to be compatible with Galaxy Gear. This indicates that the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 should also be in the running for an Android 4.3 update, especially considering that it still runs the same software it released with in September 2012.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Android 4.3 Jelly Bean Update Confirmed

Yes, we are well aware that Samsung is all set to roll out the next iteration of the Galaxy Note device this coming September 4th, but this does not mean the South Korean company has forgotten all about the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. In fact, the Galaxy Note 2 is confirmed to be on the receiving end of the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean operating system update, and with that, you can also have Android Device Manager run on it.

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Hello, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean! / © Samsung
To know that Android 4.3 Jelly Bean is well on its way is a comforting thought, especially when the Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean did happen to frustrate owners of the Galaxy Note 2 plenty in the past due to a seemingly never ending wait. Telstra, an Australian carrier, has confirmed that the Galaxy Note 2 will skip the Android 4.2 update, and jump straight into Android 4.3 Jelly Bean instead.

It must be noted that while Android 4.3 Jelly Bean was introduced as recently as July 24th at a Google press event, a speedy confirmation like this is always more than welcome. Chances are, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean will be the last of the Jelly Bean updates before Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie hits the deck. We await official word from Samsung as to the actual release date of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean for the Galaxy Note 2 with bated breath.

Indian scholar challenges Newton’s law

An Indian technologist in Australia has challenged Newton’s First Law of Motion and called for a revision of the classical theory in the light of modern technology.

Click!

According to Newton’s First Law of Motion an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an external force.

Arindam Banerjee, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur, argued in his recent book, To The Stars!, that contrary to Newton’s theory an object can actually be moved without application of any external force.

“Central to my theory is the proposal that our understanding of Newton’s First Law of Motion should be revised,” the 47-year-old research technologist, who works for Telstra in Melbourne, told PTI.

Based on his unconventional theory, Banerjee has described in a technical paper, a design for a ‘perpetual motion machine,’ which can generate energy without burning any kind of fossil fuel or using any radioactive process.

Called the Internal Force Engine, Banerjee claims it would never run out of power because it is ‘self charging’ without the need for any external source of energy.

“It is a machine driven by energy internal to the body and can achieve unlimited kinetic energy within a short span of time, using much less energy obtained from external sources like a battery,” he said.

The balance energy generated thus is free and could be produced indefinitely if a feedback loop is created in the system, Banerjee contended.

The technologist has created an electro-magnetically propelled Internal Force Moved Body, which demonstrates that objects can be made to move from rest without friction, without expelling mass at high speed (as in rockets) or without any externally applied force, thus violating Newton’s First Law of Motion.

Through a series of complex cycles involving a hydraulic system that channelises oppositely directed kinetic energies, Banerjee’s IFMB produces ever increasing velocity with each cycle with ‘no upper limit’ to the velocity that it can reach.

Though his theory is based on the assumption that our present understanding of the Law of Conservation of Energy (which says: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed) is flawed, Banerjee clarified that certain new concepts arising out of his own postulations would have to get a firm footing first.

“For instance, the concept of ‘internal force,’ ‘internal force moved body’ and ‘velocity addition’ as proposed in the new theory would need innovations in the fields of electromagnetic and hydraulic systems,” he said.

Successful implementation of the concept, fortified with designs and mathematical derivations, could mean a gradual elimination of the conventional sources of energy (fossil fuels) ensuring a pollution-free environment, the technology expert said.

The theory could also be used to describe the principles for the design of interstellar spacecrafts using the perpetual motion machine, Banerjee pointed out.

“Designing an engine that delivers more power than it takes to run has been a dream for all engineers. This concept has the potential to create a portable, cheap and no-noise machine to propel even huge systems,” he said.

© Copyright 2013 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
                                          –June 04, 2003 12:53 IST