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Speculation: NSA Building Exaflop Supercomputer

The United States Government’s National Security Agency (aka the where-privacy-goes-to-die agency) is apparently building a new supercomputer called the for its High Performance Computing Centre. The supercomputer will cost about $895.6 million, as revealed by unclassified documents. The supercomputer is to be built at the headquarters of the agency in Fort Meade, Md. and is slated for completion by 2015.

The NSA is a surveillance organization (to use a nonspecific and broad generalization) that has been operating since 1952 and is responsible for the decryption of foreign intelligence and the safeguarding and encryption of USA’s domestic signals. The agency has a history of using supercomputers, starting with the purchase and use of one of the first Cray supercomputers (The Cray X-MP/24) which is now decommissioned and is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum.

While exactly how large this computer that the NSA is building is unknown, it is very likely that the computer will be able to perform at 1 exaFLOP. A FLOP, or FLoating point OPerations per Second is a measure of how fast a computer is. It is basically the number of floating point calculations performed in unit time by the computer. A simple hand-held calculator is about 10 FLOPS on an average to show instantaneous results.

An exaFLOP is 10 followed by 18 zeroes (10^18)

In comparison, the combined computing power of the top 500 supercomputers in the world is about 32.4 petaFLOPS (32.4 x 10^15). That is, the new supercomputer being constructed by the NSA is about 31 times faster than the top 500 supercomputers in the world taken together.

However, all this is still speculation, garnered by the power requirements for the new computer – about 60 megaWatts. The calculation is based on the Sequoia BlueGene/Q IBM supercomputer that is also under production that needs performs around 20 petaFLOPS and needs 6 megaWatts of power.

Of course, the NSA needs more computing power to sift through all the emails, phone calls and messages we send each day, right?


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