Twice a year, a group of experts release a ranked list of the world’s most powerful computers called TOP500. It is likely that the new list in June will have a new member of the Top 10 of the Top 500: a computer dubbed Pangea. Its output is is 2.3 petaflops. A petaflop is a quadrillion “floating-point operations per second.” Today’s desktop computers deal in gigaflops, or billions.
The system is the fastest commercially-owned computer in the world. The other faster computers on TOP500′s list are owned by governments or academic institutions and therefore used for research.
Pangea is owned by Total SA, the fifth-largest oil and gas company in the world. So the supercomputer will not be changing the future of health care IT like former Jeopardy champion Watson or revolutionizing climate projections and weather research like supercomputers at NCAR and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It will be searching for oil and gas, according to Reuters.
Pangea helped analyze seismic data from Total’s Kaombo project in Angola in just nine days, instead of the four and a half months it would have taken with its previous computer, Philippe Malzac, IT director at Total’s Exploration division, told Reuters:
Total trumps British rival BP with the 2.3-petaflop supercomputer. BP said last December it was building a 2 petaflop supercomputing facility in Houston, Texas.
“Our competitors are also working on these kind of algorithms, but we think this is giving us a head start,” Malzac said.
The price of the system is undisclosed, but it will cost nearly $20 million per year just to run Pangea. The technological achievement may be impressive, but the reality is that oil and gas reserves are finite and getting more expensive to extract, while renewable fuels like wind and solar are getting cheaper to utilize.