A petaflop is a measure of a computer's processing speed and can be expressed as a thousand trillion floating point operations per second.
FLOPS are floating-point operations per second. Floating-point is considered to be a method of encoding real numbers within the limits of finite precision available on computers.
Using floating-point encoding, extremely long numbers can be handled relatively easily. A floating-point number is expressed as a basic number, an exponent, and a number base which is usually ten but may also be 2.
To get a perspective on how far we are from a petaflop machine (1 quadrillion mathematical computations per second), the world's fastest supercomputer today, the Blue Gene Supercomputer in Livermore, California, has a top speed of 360 trillion operations a second.
Scientists predict we will see a petaflop computer by the year 2010, others claim it could be as early as 2006.
Japan's Earth Simulator supercomputer shocked Washington a few years ago and many believed that the United States could lose its lead in many areas, just as it did in climate science.
The Earth Simulator Center reportedly negotiated deals with Japanese automakers to use time on the world's fastest computer to boost their quality and productivity; that's when the race became heated!
IBM developed the Blue Gene computer in 2004 which may not hold the lead if reports are accurate; Its said that Japan is working on a petaflop computer that can operate 10 quadrillion calculations per second (10 petaflops). This petaflop computer would be over 70 times as fast as the Blue Gene and could run $750 million dollars.