And now something completely different: brain simulation

November 28, 2009
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Our good folks at the national labs have been developing cloud computing for two decades, so what they are doing now is possibly an indication of what we’ll be doing with the cloud a decade from now. Researchers at IBM Almaden have been working on the largest brain simulation to date; 1.6 billion neurons with 9 trillion connections. The scale of this endeavor still dwarfs the capacity and capability of any commercial cloud offering; the simulation uses roughly 150 thousand processors and 150TBytes of memory.

Just to provide a sense of the OPEX of such an installation:

Dawn, an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer at LLNL, hums and breathes inside an acre-size room on the second floor of the lab’s Terascale Simulation Facility. Its 147,456 processors and 147,000 gigabytes of memory fill 10 rows of computer racks, woven together by miles of cable. Dawn devours a million watts of electricity through power cords as thick as a bouncer’s wrists—racking up an annual power bill of $1 million. The roar of refrigeration fans fills the air: 6675 tons of air-conditioning hardware labor to dissipate Dawn’s body heat, blowing 2.7 million cubic feet of chilled air through the room every minute.

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Our good folks at the national labs have been developing cloud computing for two decades, so what they are doing now is possibly an indication of what we’ll be doing with the cloud a decade from now. Researchers at IBM Almaden have been working on the largest brain simulation to date; 1.6 billion neurons with 9 trillion connections. The scale of this endeavor still dwarfs the capacity and capability of any commercial cloud offering; the simulation uses roughly 150 thousand processors and 150TBytes of memory.

Just to provide a sense of the OPEX of such an installation:

Dawn, an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer at LLNL, hums and breathes inside an acre-size room on the second floor of the lab’s Terascale Simulation Facility. Its 147,456 processors and 147,000 gigabytes of memory fill 10 rows of computer racks, woven together by miles of cable. Dawn devours a million watts of electricity through power cords as thick as a bouncer’s wrists—racking up an annual power bill of $1 million. The roar of refrigeration fans fills the air: 6675 tons of air-conditioning hardware labor to dissipate Dawn’s body heat, blowing 2.7 million cubic feet of chilled air through the room every minute.

Given the fact that a real brain only consumes about 25Watts, clearly there is a lot of room for technology innovation. Silicon innovation however has come to a standstill with venture capital completely abandoning this segment. There are no VC firms in the US or EU that have any funds that target this vertical. It is rumored that Google is designing its own silicon now since no commercial chip manufacturers are providing the innovation that Google needs.

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