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Top 500 supers - world yawns at petaflops

Not the norm. But getting there

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The annual International Supercomputing Conference kicked off this morning in Hamburg, Germany, with the announcement of the 33rd edition of the Top 500 supercomputer rankings. While petaflops-scale machines are far from normal, they soon will be.

Not surprisingly, HPC vendors and academics are gearing up to try to push performance up by three orders of magnitude to break through the exaflops barrier - something that will take radically different server and network fabric designs and plenty of time to accomplish. But in the meantime, everyone is trying to show they can break the petaflops barrier, and soon, they will be breaking the 10 petaflops barrier.

With the June 2009 ranking, the home team in Germany - which has two monster machines in the top ten this time around - will be celebrating. Well, as much as supercomputer nerds celebrate. (We know you are really using the new Jugene and Juropa supers to play video games, at least when the administrators aren't looking. Let's hope the game is not global thermonuclear war).

The Forschungszentrum Juelich (FZJ) has been on a buying binge this year, upgrading its two supercomputers so it can lay the claim of being the floppiest supercomputer center in Europe. The Jugene BlueGene/P system that FZJ bought from IBM packs together 294,912 PowerPC 450 cores running at 3.4 GHz, using a proprietary BlueGene interconnect to deliver 825.5 teraflops of oomph for various research projects, giving it the number three position on the Top 500 list. It runs SUSE Linux - as if you expecte anything else.

Down the hall at FZJ is a hybrid machine made by Bull and Sun Microsystems, called Juropa, which is comprised of a mix of Bull NovaScale R422-E2 rack servers and Sun's X6275 blade servers, all linked together using the new quad data rate InfiniBand switches from Mellanox. It's ranked at number ten on the list. (Those Mellanox switches were the final nail in interconnect maker Quadrics' coffin, since the Juropa prototype used its products and the final machine did not).

The Juropa nodes all use Intel's quad-core Xeon 5500 processors (formerly known as "Nehalem EP" or "Gainestown" if you track code names) and run SUSE Linux. The combined bits of the Juropa machine have 26,304 cores in total and were rated at 274,800 on the Linpack Fortran test, which means 89.1 percent of the peak theoretical performance of the processors was delivered when the Fortran test was run. The Jugene machine has an efficiency of about 82.3 percent on the Linpack test.

The Top 500 supercomputer list comes out twice a year, giving food for thought to the two major HPC events of the year, Supercomputing in North America and ISC in Europe. The list is maintained by Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon, computer scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, and Hans Meuer of the University of Manheim. The ranking is based on the installed machine running the Linpack Fortran benchmark test created by Dongarra and colleagues Jim Bunch, Cleve Moler, and Pete Stewart back in the 1970s to gauge the relative performance of computers of all stripes and sizes on numerical calculations.

The two machines at the top of the June 2009 ranking are exactly the same as they were on the November 2008 list. Number one is IBM's hybrid Opteron-Cell "Roadrunner" machine, which the U.S. Department of Energy has installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The machine is currently using dual-core 1.8 GHz Opteron chips and 3.2 GHz PowerXCell 8i co-processors, delivering 1.1 petaflops of number-crunching power (the same performance it had last November). Roadrunner has 129,600 processor cores in total and runs at about 75.9 per cent of peak theoretical throughput. (Moving up to faster 40 Gb/sec InfiniBand switches would probably boost performance on Roadrunner without adding cores to the box).

Number two on the Top 500 is the "Jaguar" Cray XT5 cluster installed at the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is made from 37,538 of Advanced Micro Devices' quad-core "Shanghai" processors running at 2.3 GHz and delivering 1.06 petaflops of oomph. It too had the same ranking late last year. (That's because the heavy workload that Jaguar has been under has not allowed it to be retested, according to Strohmaier).

The "Pleiades" Altix ICE 8200 cluster made by Silicon Graphics (the old one, not the new one that is really Rackable Systems with the old SGI product line added in) for NASA's Ames Research Center is ranked at number four on the list, with 487 teraflops, the same as six months ago but Jugene bumped it down. The number five box on the ranking - IBM's BlueGene/L massively parallel box installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the number one machine on the November 2007 list when it debuted - was still rated at 478.2 teraflops.

There are two more BlueGene/P systems in the top ten, which are kickers to this BlueGene/L and siblings to the larger Jugene machine at FZJ.

Number six on the Top 500 list this time around is a sibling machine nicknamed "Kraken" that is also an XT5 machine from Cray that is installed at the University of Tennessee. It has 66,000 cores, is rated at 463.3 teraflops, and is the most powerful supercomputer installed at a university anywhere in the world.

Number seven on the list is a BlueGene/P box installed at Argonne National Laboratory, which was upgraded a smidgen to 458.6 teraflops but which still fell two spots in the ranking. Number eight on the list is the the parallel machine built by Sun Microsystems using its X6420 blade servers with quad-core Shanghai Opterons running at 2.3 GHz and linked by Sun's "Magnum" InfiniBand DDR switches. The Ranger cluster has a total of 62,976 cores and it's rated at 433.2 teraflops.

Rounding out the top ten is "Ranger," at number nine on the list, is a machine named "Dawn," a companion BlueGene/P box that sits next to that BlueGene/L box at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It's rated at 415.7 teraflops.

Other new and notable machines on the list include a 185.2 teraflops BlueGene/P super sold by IBM to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, ranked number 14 on the list, and a 180.6 teraflops cluster called "Magic Cube" at the Shanghai Supercomputer Center, the largest machine on the list equipped with Microsoft's Windows HPC Server 2008 operating system. This system was built by Chinese server maker Dawning and was on the list as of last November.

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