IEEE University of Lahore


Descartes Labs Built a Top 500 Supercomputer From Amazon Cloud

Cofounder Mike Warren talks about the future of high-performance computing in a data-rich, cloud computing world

Descartes Labs cofounder Mike Warren has had some notable firsts in his career, and a surprising number have had lasting impact. Back in 1998 for instance, his was the first Linux-based computer fast enough to gain a spot in the coveted Top 500 list of supercomputers. Today, they all run Linux. Now his company, which crunches geospatial and location data to answer hard questions, has achieved something else that may be indicative of where high-performance computing is headed: It’s built the world’s 136th fastest supercomputer using just Amazon Web Services and Descartes Labs’ own software. In 2010, this would have been the most powerful computer on the planet.

Notably, Amazon didn’t do anything special for Descartes. Warren’s firm just plunked down US $5,000 on the company credit card for the use of a “high-network-throughput instance block” consisting of 41,472 processor cores and 157.8 gigabytes of memory. It then worked out some software to make the collection act as a single machine. Running the standard supercomputer test suite, called LinPack, the system reached 1,926.4 teraFLOPS (trillion floating point operations per second). (Amazon itself made an appearance much lower down on the Top 500 list a few years back, but that’s thought to have been for its own dedicated system in which Amazon was the sole user rather than what’s available to the public.)

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