Linux: It doesn't get any faster

The Windows' fan club likes to point out that Windows is far more popular than Linux. The reason for that has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with monopoly. Nothing shows that better than the semi-annual TOP500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers. In the latest ranking, where performance is everything and nothing else matters, Windows is stalled out at the starting line, and Linux is lapping the field.

Specifically, Linux has increased its already substantial supercomputer market share to 88.6%. Linux is followed by hybrid Unix/Linux systems with 5.8%; Unix, mostly IBM's AIX, with 4.4%; and running close to last, Windows HPC (high-performance computing) with 1%. Only BSD, with a single representative on the list, trails Windows.

In the lead at the number 1 spot with 1.105 petaflop/s (quadrillions of floating point operations per second) is the Los Alamos National Laboratory Roadrunner system by IBM. Roadrunner was the first system, to break the petaflop/s Linpack barrier in June 2008.

How fast is that? According to the Department of Energy, which paid for the Roadrunner, "One petaflop is 1,000 trillion operations per second. To put this into perspective, if each of the 6 billion people on earth had a hand calculator and worked together on a calculation 24 hours per day, 365 days a year, it would take 46 years to do what Roadrunner would do in one day."

And, of course, the Roadrunner is fueled by Linux. In fact, all the top ten run Linux.

The hardware the supercomputers run on is quickly shifting over to multi-core processors. In this latest ranking, only four supercomputers still use single-core CPUs. Quad-core processor-based systems are found in 383 systems, while 102 systems are using dual-core processors. In addition, four supercomputers are now using IBM's Sony PlayStation 3 processor with 9 cores. Yes, that's right, top of the line supercomputers use the same top of the line processors found in PlayStations. Neat isn't it?

Most of the supercomputer processors though come from Intel. To be exact, 399 systems, 79.8% are Intel. IBM Power processors come in second with 55 systems, 11% with AMD Opteron family with 43 systems in the third spot.

Regardless of the processor, one thing isn't just staying the same, it's actually growing, and that's Linux in supercomputers. When being the fastest of the fast is all that matters, Linux isn't just winning, it's extending its lead.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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