Wednesday, 24 June 2009 03:30

Intel infiltrates the Top500, Linux is unmoved

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Every six months, a list of the Top500 most powerful supercomputers is released.  The 33rd list, released today, shows that more systems than ever are based on Intel CPUs; and Linux.

So, what are the highlights? 

Firstly, in the area of Operating System, Linux (in a number of variants, notably SLES and Red Hat) holds 450 places.  Of the remainder, AIX holds 21 places and Windows HPC 2008 just 4; sorry Bill.

As the introduction suggests, Intel CPUs are becoming dominant.  In fact since 2000, when they first appeared in the list with just a couple of entries, they have become the dominant force – peaking in the current list at 399 systems.  Of the remainder, AMD hold 43 places, meaning that the 'Intel platform,' with 442 places, is almost as dominant at the Linux Operating System.

Of the rest, 51 are PowerPC, leaving just 7 other processor systems.

From Intel's announcement of their success, "Intel-based super computing platforms are playing a pivotal role in a number of research areas, from improving the safety of space exploration to forecasting global climate conditions.  More 'mainstream' industries, such as financial services and health care, are also using Intel-based systems to achieve faster, more accurate results, to speed the pace of innovation and improve competitive advantage."

From Top500's own announcement, "Hewlett-Packard kept a narrow lead in market share by total systems from IBM, but IBM still stays ahead by overall installed performance."

Some of the more interesting observations: 4 systems (including the top-ranked computer) use the Sony Playstation 3 processor, being a nine-core chip.  System 500 in the current list would have held position 274 in the previous list (November 2008), indicating a continued rapid evolution in the industry.

Another 'oddity' is the new Dawning system, located in Shanghai, which has rocketed into the top 20 at position 15, being the fastest system running Windows HPC 2008.  It is also the fastest of the 21 Chinese systems in the list.

Time for a little parochialism before we announce the winners.


In our region (Oceania), there are 6 systems in the top 500 – all of which are used in the media industry. 

Australia's Animal Logic holds down position 279.  Weta Studios (in Wellington NZ, responsible for Lord of the Rings and other projects) has 5 identical systems in positions 140 – 144.  All six Australasian systems were provided by Hewlett Packard.

Amongst the rest of the world, The Americas has 300 systems (almost all in USA) and Europe 145.  Almost all of the remainder are in Asia (China with 21 and Japan with 15 systems).

So, what of the winners?

Interestingly, the top 2 are unchanged from the previous list; they're still the only two systems to beat the 1 petaflop barrier.  "Roadrunner," based on 14,400 Playstation 9-core CPUs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (you know: the guys interested in things that "go bump in the night!") remains first and the Cray XT5 Jaguar at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, built on 37,538 AMD Opteron Quad core processors is still second.

Third is a brand-new system, Germany's JUGENE, a variant of the well-known BlueGene/P family, is almost twice as fast as the 4th placed system.

A new measure is energy-efficiency.  As might be expected, the Playstation-based Roadrunner is amongst the most efficient systems (at 536 Mflop / watt), the BlueGene/P systems at 372 Mflop / watt) and interestingly the Intel quad-core blades (at up to 273 Mflop / watt) are making inroads.

From a negative viewpoint, average power consumption of the top ten is unchanged at 2.45 megawatts.  Bring your own power station!


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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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