IBM Dominates Supercomputer List – Again

Call it “supercomputing smackdown.” Today, at the International Supercomputing Conference 2007 (ISC07) in Dresden, Germany, the Top500 group announced its latest list of the top 500 most powerful supercomputers in the world.

To say it’s a competitive list would be an understatement and few of the players can hold top spots long without constant improvements. With a few exceptions, this June’s list has seen a reshuffling since the last list was published last November.

If there is such a thing as a winner in such a competition, however, that would be IBM . Just as last November – the top 500 list is recompiled every six months – Big Blue held the top spot, with its Blue Gene/L – eServer Blue Gene Solution. In fact, IBM has taken that top spot four times running with the system deployed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

“The Blue Gene/L System development by IBM and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and installed at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., claimed the No. 1 spot,” the Top500 group announced Wednesday.

That system achieved a blazing benchmark performance of 280.6 TFlops (“teraflops” or trillions of floating point operations per second) running what’s called the Linpack benchmark. (For those who are not mathematically challenged, the Top500 group says the point of the Linpack benchmark is “to solve a dense system of linear equations.”)

Interestingly, IBM’s performance with the Power-based Blue Gene/L System was identical to its score in November 2006 and in November 2005. (IBM says the system’s theoretical performance is 360 TFlops.)

Additionally, however, three other eServer Blue Gene systems made the top ten – last November, IBM only had two of the systems on the list. A fifth IBM system, a BladeCenter JS21 cluster system located at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center in Spain, and also Power-based, came in at number 9, down from the number 5 spot last November.

If that weren’t enough, a sixth IBM system, an eServer pSeries p5 575, also made the top ten.

Despite such a strong showing, however, Big Blue doesn’t completely dominate. Neither is it the only company whose supercomputers turned in teraflop performances.

Notably, Cray  supercomputers, powered by AMD processors, hold the number two and three spots on the new list. Both beat the 100 TFlop barrier with more than 101 TFlops apiece. Cray held the number two and ten spots last time.

Intel  chips are also represented in the top ten supercomputing sites with systems from Dell  in eighth place and SGI  at ten. Bumped from June 2007’s top ten were Bull SA and NEC/Sun.

Begun in 1993, this is the 29th Top500 list to be published. A lot has changed since then. As a matter of fact much has changed in just the last six months.

“The performance needed to make it onto the list increased to 4.005 TFlops, compared to 2.737 TFlop/s six months ago, [and] the system ranked [at] 500 on the current list would have held position number 216 only six months ago …. the largest turnover rate between lists in the Top500 project’s 15-year history,” the Top500 group’s statement said.

Trend-wise, despite having only two in the top ten, Intel-based systems continued to gain ground as the predominant high performance computing (HPC) processor, with nearly 58 percent share – 289 out of 500. That’s up from 52.5 percent last time.

AMD  came in second with 21 percent, a decline from 22.6 percent in November, while IBM Power-based systems represent 17 percent, or 85 systems, down from 18.6 percent six months ago. Dual core processors, clusters, and Gigabit Ethernet all dominate, although InfiniBand usage is growing for system interconnections.

The U.S. is home to 281 of the 500 systems on the latest list, and European sites have grown to 127 systems (a jump from 95), while Asian sites dropped to 72 (a decline from 79). Of those, Japan has 23 and China has 13 of the Top500 systems. The UK currently has the most in Europe — 43 systems — and Germany is second with 24.

One significant indicator of how dynamic the HPC/supercomputing market is: “The average age of a system in the Top500 list is only 1 year and 2 months,” the group said. Also worthy of note, HP  systems did not rank in the top 50, while IBM systems comprise 46 percent of the top 50.

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