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The politics of petaflops

In terms of vendor share, the Top 500 is still dominated by server makers IBM and Hewlett-Packard. IBM has 185 systems on the list this time around, with a total of 2.14 million cores and 9.72 petaflops of aggregate performance, giving IBM's machines a 34.8 per cent share of the number crunching on the list.

HP might not have had a big box near the top of the list in a long time - HP's most powerful machine is the 132.8 teraflops Cluster Platform 3000 based on the BL460c blade servers installed at Tata & Sons in India, ranked 26 on the list - but the world's volume server supplier has 210 machines on the November 2009 Top 500 list, with more than 1 million cores and 6.64 petaflops of aggregate oomph across those boxes, a 22.8 per cent share of the combined performance of the Top 500 list.

Niche server players but HPC specialists Cray and Silicon Graphics have 19 machines each on the November ranking. Cray's machines have 596,315 cores for a total of 4.4 petaflops of combined performance, while SGI has much skinnier machines - at least until it starts installing the much-anticipated "UltraViolet" shared memory systems based on Intel's future Xeon 7500 "Nehalem EX" eight-core processors. SGI's 19 machines, including a mix of Altix 4700 Itanium-based machines as well as the Altix ICE Xeon blade clusters, have a total of 198,304 cores for a not-too-shabby aggregate of 1.83 petaflops of performance.

Sun Microsystems, which has wanted to be a more serious player in HPC for the past decade and considering its server designs and switches it should be, has 11 machines on the current Top 500 list. The Sun boxes have 171,442 cores and 1.52 petaflops of aggregate performance. Dell has 16 machines on the list, with 616 teraflops and a mere 85,766 cores. (Dell, IBM, and Sun share boxes not included in that Dell total, and Dell has partnered with ACS for another machine.) Bull has five machines on the list for 481 teraflops and Appro International has six machines for 481 teraflops.

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