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article imageHP unveils 'The Machine': a big data computer with 160TB of RAM

By James Walker     May 17, 2017 in Technology
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has announced the largest single memory computer ever created. "The Machine" has 160TB of memory within a single bank, allowing it to scale far beyond previous computers. It could help to enable the "big data" age.
The Machine is currently a prototype within HPE's labs. The company has worked to create a system with enormous memory capacity, prioritising it above all else. Processing power has taken a backseat to creating the world's largest single bank of memory, a feat HP claims to have achieved.
Although it's not directly comparable, The Machine's 160TB of memory can be likened to the RAM inside a regular PC. It enables vast amounts of data to be held in memory for processing. It's not to be confused with "storage," a term that refers to devices like hard drives and SSDs that retain data after it has been created and processed.
A typical computer will have around 4GB of RAM, a tiny fraction of the 160TB sported by The Machine. According to HPE, the computer could store the equivalent of 160 million books within its active memory. Assuming the processor was up to the task, they could all be analysed simultaneously. In this example, the capability would allow massive performance improvements when digitising books or extracting text from documents.
Even more significantly, HPE believes the current prototype could be scaled up by several more orders of magnitude with relative ease. The company suggested that computers with near-unlimited pools of memory could soon be within reach. The current hard cap is at 4,096 yottabytes, the equivalent of 4.096e+15 terabytes (that's 4,096TB with 12 zeroes). Put in context, HPE claims the figure is 250,000 times larger than the combined size of all the digital data ever created to date.
If The Machine is successfully scaled to this almost incomprehensible capacity, it could be used to drive breakthroughs in society. The computer would be able to access every piece of data in existence simultaneously, letting it make connections with unprecedented insight. Solutions to societal problems could be delivered at a near instant rate.
Although much of the memory-driven computing concept is still at the hypothetical stage, HPE is making the technology a headline component of its portfolio. The company intends to continue expanding The Machine, believing it could assist in "every" area of computing.
"We believe Memory-Driven Computing is the solution to move the technology industry forward in a way that can enable advancements across all aspects of society," said Mark Potter, CTO at HPE and director of Hewlett Packard Labs. "The architecture we have unveiled can be applied to every computing category – from intelligent edge devices to supercomputers."
HPE isn't yet ready to make the power of The Machine publicly available. In the future, more memory-driven systems will start to appear in datacentres though, giving developers the ability to create new deep learning applications with the potential to draw on far wider datasets than ever before. HPE has already successfully run Linux on the device and created a suite of programming tools to allow apps to access the memory pool.
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