The march towards exaflop computing continues apace in the latest TOP500 list of the world’s most
powerful computers, released in November. In the year
since my last column on this topic, the champion from
last year, China’s 34-petaflop Tianhe- 2, has been surpassed
by another Chinese machine, Sunway TaihuLight, which
manages 93 petaflops on the Linpack benchmark.
The top ten systems are all general-purpose
machines, but right behind them at number eleven
is the UK’s top entrant: A Cray XC40 system at the
Meteorological Office in Exeter that’s dedicated to
weather forecasting. The Met Office is the United
Kingdom’s national weather service; they’re recognized
as one of the world’s most accurate forecasters
(according to them, naturally).
Cray seems to be building a nice little niche in weather
forecasting. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) operates several Cray machines,
For now, the Brits are leading the pack in
supercomputer-based weather forecasting. Perhaps it
should come as no surprise, given the changeability of
their climate. In 1922, English Mathematician Lewis
Fry Richardson was the first to propose the modeling
of atmospheric dynamics via thousands of equations.
Unfortunately, he estimated that it would take six weeks
to perform the manual calculations needed for a six-hour
forecast, so his ideas had to wait until the 1950s. The
development of electric desk calculators and the Cray
XC40 both had to wait later as well.
By Paul Pickering, Technical Contributor
Figure 1: Why the Met needs a Cray XC40: another sunny/rainy/sunny day in North Yorkshire. (Source: Daily Mail)