Saudi Arabia, Germany moving in on Top500 supercomputer list

Computers in Germany and Saudi Arabia are now among the fastest in the world, but the bi-annual Top500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers is still topped by the Roadrunner system at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Earlier this month, the University of Toronto in collaboration with IBM Corp. announced a supercomputer facility , boasting it to be one of the world’s fastest machines. The machine is expected to place 20th on the list.

Two new systems in Germany have entered the Top500 list, in third and tenth place. Third-placed JUGENE was built by IBM for the Forschungszentrum Juelich, and has achieved 825.5 teraflops (trillion floating-point operations per second) using 294,912 processor cores.

The second new European entrant is also installed at the Forschungszentrum Juelich, which pursues interdisciplinary research on solving the grand challenges facing society in the fields of health, energy and the environment, and also information technologies, according to its web site.

The JUROPA supercomputer achieved 274.8 teraflops, and is based on Bull Novascale and Sun SunBlade x6048 servers. Last week, Bull has launched the bullx, a supercomputer that uses blade servers and water cooling to be green and fast.

The two systems in Germany are the only non-U.S. systems in the top 10.

A third notable newcomer to the Top500 list is the Shaheen, which can handle 185.17 teraflops and is installed at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. It is also an IBM system.

While those systems are impressive, they still can’t compete with the 1.105 petaflops of Roadrunner, which was built by IBM and in June 2008 became the first system ever to break the barrier of a quadrillion floating point operations per second.

Getting onto to the Top500 list has become quite a bit harder. The entry level is now 17.1 teraflops, compared to 12.64 teraflops six months ago. Also, the last system today would have been listed at position 274 six months ago. That system has 3528 processor cores and uses Xeon dual-core processors at 2.66GHz.

Power consumption has become a more important part of supercomputer performance. The average power efficiency is now 150 megaflops/watt, compared to 132 megaflops/watt on November’s list.

Supercomputers are becoming less expensive, greener, more open and clustered, making them suitable for markets beyond the traditional government labs, universities and energy companies. Now, industries such manufacturing and finance are being drawn to HPC

A clear trend is the move to quad-core processors. 383 systems are now using processors with four cores, which is 47 more than six months ago. Intel’s dominance in also increasing: 399 systems are now using Intel processors, up from 379 systems in November.

The battle between IBM and HP continues. HP kept a narrow lead by number of systems, but at the same time IBM remains the clear leader in the Top500 list in performance.

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