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Modern Energy Exploration Increasingly Requires Supercomputers

Four of the top 100 most powerful computers in the world are run by energy exploration and production companies, according to the latest list of the world's top supercomputers, released last week. No other industry has more than one supercomputer in the top 100.

Why is the energy industry such an outliner in the need for compute power? The field has always been a big user of high performance computing (HPC). But the growing need for more precise information derived quickly to make faster decisions is pushing companies to use ever-more powerful systems.

Specifically, modern energy exploration and production is highly dependent on the rapid analysis of increasingly more complex and larger seismic imaging datasets. At the same time, the modeling, reserve management, and analytics algorithms being used on that data are becoming more granular and sophisticated requiring even greater processing power.

The four energy industry systems in the top 100 are owned by Total Exploration Production, Petroleum Geo-Services, Eni S.p.A., and one additional organization only identified as “Energy Company (A).” Their place in the list of top systems is based on the results of a benchmark performance test, the LINPACK benchmark.*

The list has been compiled using this benchmark twice a year since 1993. The four systems were found to have, respectively, peak performance benchmarks of 5.28 petaflops, 4.04 petaflops, 3.19 petaflops, and 2.59 petaflops. (A petaflop is a measure of a computer’s processing speed, specifically the ability to perform one quadrillion floating-point operations per second.)  

The computational power of these systems is unheard of in commercial settings. Typically, only government labs and the largest academic computing centers have systems with similar capabilities. It should be noted that basic energy research is well represented in the list, as well. The Department of Energy has nine systems in the top 100.

What does this all mean? Simply put, the companies are running four of the most powerful private supercomputers in the world. The need for such processing power hammers home the point that energy exploration and production is (as it has been for decades) a data-driven operation.

* One note about the Top500 list: Entry on the list is voluntary. Some companies intentionally do not participate to keep information about their computing capacity hidden from competitors. As a result, there might be other commercial systems that are more powerful than those included on the list.



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