Thomas Malthus, an English political economist who lived from 1766 to 1834, predicted that the earth’s population would be limited by starvation since population growth increases geometrically and the food supply only grows linearly. He said, “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to provide subsistence for man,” thus defining the Malthusian Catastrophe. There is a parallel between this prediction and the conventional wisdom regarding super-large machines: application problem size and machine complexity is growing geometrically, yet mitigation techniques are only improving linearly.
To examine whether the largest machines are usable, the authors collected and examined component failure rates and Mean Time Between System Failure data from the world’s largest production machines, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Jaguar and the University of Tennessee’s Kraken. The authors also collected MTBF data for a variety of Cray XT series machines from around the world, representing over 6 Petaflops of compute power. An analysis of the data is provided as well as plans for future work. High performance computing’s Malthusian Catastrophe hasn’t happened yet, and advances in system resiliency should keep this problem at bay for many years to come.