Emerging Alliance: Flash Drives and the Supercomputer

By · Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Flash Memory and SupercomputersThe same USB and flash technology that plugs into your home computer or powers your iPod is progressively embarking on a completely different frontier:  supercomputers.  Yes, supercomputers—the innovative techno-giant machines which generate the highest, fastest processing capacities to date.  They take up thousands upon thousands of square feet in massive rooms, and yet their operators are looking to feed their need for speed with a powerful jumpstart that’s the size of your thumb.  The questions are, how and why?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the world’s supercomputers have attempted to juice their performance capabilities with the help of graphics chips or DRAMs (dynamic random access memory chips).  DRAMs act as transitional storage for supercomputer data.  However, research suggests that flash memory, or solid-state drives (SSDs) could replace DRAMs due not only to their space saving size, less expensive price point and minimal energy use, but also for helping supercomputer data transfer faster and more efficiently.

Two examples of testing and flash memory prototypes for supercomputers can be found at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC San Diego.  Livermore’s facility uses 100 terabytes of flash memory that can transfer data at 320 gigabytes per second.  UC San Diego received a $20 million grant to develop a supercomputer with more than 250 terabytes of SSD.  Coupled with DRAM, San Diego’s supercomputer plans to compute a trillion calculations of data per second.

It’s hard to quantify such technological speeds, as the addition and multiplication of those digits are enough to make your head explode.  However, the work of these supercomputers translates into applications that could likely touch some aspect of your everyday life.  According to UC San Diego researchers, this kind of high-performance flash memory may serve to be useful in combing through massive amounts of data inherent to the science of data mining (which extends to business, engineering, security, finance and healthcare industries) and even earthquake prediction.

In a technological era where we’re constantly bombarded with more data as everything in our world transforms from paper, people, places and things into a digital render; solid-state memory in supercomputers could help keep our technological galaxy spinning in proper orbit.

Do you think flash memory is a viable option for supercomputers?  Weigh in on the future of supercomputers and SSDs.

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