Just as each iteration of the iPhone dethrones its predecessor from the pinnacle of consumer electronics to a quaint reminder of product cycles past, so too do supercomputers fall victim to the march of progress. After five years and over one billion computational hours, Franklin the supercomputer was retired in early May of this year.
Maintained by the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), Franklin was a Cray XT4 supercomputer, formerly the seventh most powerful computer in the world, and a scientific workhorse used by thousands of researchers to simulate everything from ocean currents to atomic nuclei to novel rechargeable batteries. “The Franklin machine enabled discoveries that improved our fundamental understanding of biology, chemistry and physics,” says Kathy Yelick, the Associate Laboratory Director for Computing Sciences at LBL and a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley.
Over its lifetime, Franklin was as prolific as it was powerful. “I would estimate about 5000 scientific papers were produced using computations run on Franklin,” Yelick says. The burden of continuing this impressive scientific output now rests with Franklin’s replacement, a Cray XE6 supercomputer that is already up and crunching. With around 150,000 processor cores, it is the eighth most powerful computer in the world—for now.