Roadrunner gets kyboshed

One of the more successful supercomputers, the Roadrunner, was finally switched off, yesterday meaning that Wile E Coyote can finally cancel his subscription to Acme Computers.

Roadrunner was once the world’s fastest supercomputer and looked after the US’s nuclear weapons research laboratories at Los Almos.

Although it’s among the 25 fastest supercomputers in the world, the researchers who look after it say that there are faster and more power efficient ways of doing the same thing.

But Roadrunner did change the way people thought about building and use a supercomputer.

In 2008, Roadrunner was first to break the elusive petaflop barrier by processing just over a quadrillion mathematical calculations per second. But that was less interesting than the fact that IBM built Roadrunner from commercially available parts.

It took up 278 refrigerator-size racks and these were filled with two different types of processors, all linked together by 55 miles of fibre optic cable.

For the last five years it has modelled viruses and unseen parts of the universe and helped to understand lasers and nuclear weapons work. It ran simulations aimed at ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation’s aging arsenal.

Los Alamos is using a supercomputer dubbed Cielo. Installed in 2010, it’s slightly faster than Roadrunner, takes up less space and cost half the price.

There was no ceremony when Roadrunner is switched off Sunday, but according to NBC  lab officials will spend the next month experimenting with its operating system and techniques for compressing memory before dismantling begins.

A spokesman for Wile E Coyote said that he has no plans to retire and will probably look for something else just as unobtainable.