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Top 500 Supers List Dominated By Exotic Clusters

The semi-annual list of the Top 500 supercomputers was released today at the International Supercomputer Conference in Heidelberg, Germany, and there is a tremendous amount of churn in the rankings as vendors have installed various kinds of supercomputers that have been in the works for years and academic, government, and private research facilities gobble up huge amounts of computing capacity. To make it to the list today requires an ante of more than 1 teraflops of aggregate computing power, in fact.

Read more…As one measure of how quickly the world of supercomputing has embraced new architectures and technologies and consumed computing power, the aggregate number-crunching capacity of the entire Top 500 list when it debuted in June 1993 was just over a teraflops. That is the power of the smallest machine on the list 12 years later.

In fact, number 500 on the list, a Cray T3E1200 parallel supercomputer with 1,900 processors and a sustained performance of 1.17 teraflops on the Linpack Fortran benchmark test that is used to create the rankings, would have been number 299 on the list only six months ago and would have been the fifth most powerful machine in the world on the June 2000 list. That machine would have come in behind the ASCI Red (2.4 teraflops), ASCI Blue Pacific (2.1 teraflops), and ASCI Blue Mountain (1.6 teraflops) parallel supers from Intel, IBM, and Silicon Graphics that were funded by the U.S. government in the 1990s to fuel development of indigenous supercomputers with diverse architectures. Number four on the list at that time was a parallel super made from IBM Unix servers rated at 1.4 teraflops. It will not be long before these machines–as well as many others that were formerly thought of as powerful and exotic–disappear from the Top 500 list completely. That is how fast supercomputers come and go, which is as sensible as it is ironic.

Being at any particular position on the Top 500 list is a fleeting thing these days, as all supercomputer vendors know. Five of the 10 vendors at the top of the list have been pushed down in the past six months. IBM’s Blue Gene/L super, which was build by Big Blue for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy, has doubled in size since the November 2004 rankings and now has a sustained performance of 136.8 teraflops. This machine has an incredible 32,768 dual-core, 700 MHz PowerPC 400 processors ganged up to deliver that performance; the lab is expected to double the processor count and Linpack processing capability yet again as part of the DOE contract. The number two machine on the list is a Blue Gene machine that IBM built for its own use recently at the TJ Watson Research Center in New York where Blue Gene was created; this machine, dubbed Blue Gene/W, has a rating of 91.3 teraflops, and according to IBM, which announced the machine this week, the processing capacity in the super will be used to its own product designs and research with a portion of it donated for free to academic researchers around the world. There are 16 other Blue Gene machines in the Top 500 list, and five of them occupy slots in the top 10 rankings. The aggregate processing capacity of all of the Blue Genes on the list comes to 364.7 teraflops (with six out of the 16 machines being at IBM’s own facilities and accounting for 36 percent of the total capacity of Blue Genes on the list). While the Blue Gene machines are not suitable for many workloads, if IBM gets 50 cents per megaflops in real money from the 10 commercial systems in the Top 500 list that are based on Blue Gene, it would have got back its $100 million initial investment in Blue Gene from 1999 and got a lot of PR for free.

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