Researchers from Hewlett-Packard Enterprise on Tuesday unveiled what they claimed was a breakthrough in computing with a new machine capable of handling vast amounts of data at supercomputing speeds.
The prototype named simple "the Machine" uses a new approach to computer architecture which the company says can be adapted for a range of Big Data applications, handling tasks at thousands of times the speed of existing devices.
The new system is called "memory driven computing" and uses light waves to transmit data instead of electrical impulses travelling over silicon, bypassing what engineers say is an obstacle to boosting computing speeds.
Sharad Singhal, who heads machine applications for HPE, said previous efforts to boost computing power "were running into a brick wall into computation" because computing needs are increasing beyond the capacity of existing chips.
Singhal said the project is an effort "to rethink computers from the ground up."
This means instead of a silicon chip at the heart of the computer, "we are putting data at the centre," the researcher said.
Single unit
The prototype unveiled contains 160 terabytes of memory, capable of simultaneously working with the contents of approximately 160mn books, a task never before possible in a single unit.
Singhal said supercomputers accomplish this task by stringing together clusters of processors, but that the new machine can handle this more efficiently within a single unit.
HPE unveiled its first prototype last year, but in the current version has increased the number of computing nodes from two to 40. Singhal said the company hopes to be able to commercialise the machine within a few years.
He said one area where this can be useful is in health care, where powerful computing can analyse health studies, genetics and the potential for personalising medical treatment. 
"These kinds of things can be done a lot faster on the architecture we are talking about," he said. "The research still needs to be done. But for the people working in those areas, we are giving them a more efficient tool."
He said this approach can help shorten the time in which medicines are developed by better analysis of their effectiveness and side effects.
"The secrets to the next great scientific breakthrough, industry-changing innovation, or life-altering technology hide in plain sight behind the mountains of data we create every day," said Meg Whitman, chief executive of HP Enterprise.
"To realise this promise, we can't rely on the technologies of the past, we need a computer built for the Big Data era."
HPE, based in Palo Alto, California, was created in November 2015 from the breakup of computing giant Hewlett-Packard into consumer and business units.
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