Laser Links Give Aging Supercomputers a Second Wind

Free-space optics help old computers learn new tricks

3 min read
Laser Links Give Aging Supercomputers a Second Wind
Photo: iStockphoto

The speed of high-performance computing has soared from around 100 gigaflops in 1993 to over 50 petaflops today and is on course to hit the long-sought exascale (1018 floating-point operations per second) mark in the 2020s. Yet this remarkable supercomputing progress can be something of a super nightmare for the institutes and government agencies asked to invest the hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars that leading systems can cost.

“We are achieving a 1,000[-fold] improvement over 10 years, so after just 5 years a conventional supercomputer is no longer able to perform (at the necessary standard) and has to be trashed,” says Michihiro Koibuchi, a systems architect at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics, in Tokyo. Koibuchi and his colleagues think they have a solution that will let users get more out of older machines: free-space optics, lasers that link supercomputer nodes through the air.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
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A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
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You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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