IBM increases supercomputer dominance

It had six of the top 10 spots in the latest Top500 supercomputer ranking

IBM's supercomputers continue to be the fastest in the world, according to the latest Top500 list of the speediest machines released today. The company snagged six of the top 10 spots, including the coveted No. 1 and No. 2 placings, while widening the performance gap between its machines and those of its competitors.

The list was to be announced at the International Supercomputing Conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

For the second time in a row, IBM's Blue Gene/L System at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., is the fastest supercomputer in the world. The machine also held pole position on the previous Top500 list, issued last November. Blue Gene/L doubled its performance over the past six months to reach a new Linpack benchmark performance of 136.8 trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS), nearly double the 70.72 TFLOPS recorded on the November list.

According to Dave Turek, IBM vice president for Deep Computing, the company expects the system to again double in size over the summer to between 270 and 280 TFLOPS.

In the No. 2 position was another IBM Blue Gene offering, the Watson Blue Gene (WBG) system, which IBM installed at its Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, N.Y., last week. WBG had a benchmarked performance of 91.2 TFLOPS and is being used by IBM to conduct scientific and business research.

While Blue Gene's speed and performance have been important to its rapid adoption, the supercomputer's small form factor has also proved attractive to customers, according to Stacey Quandt, IT analyst at Quandt Analytics in Santa Clara, Calif. She also emphasized the continuing adoption of the Linux operating system -- eight of the top 10 supercomputers run on Linux -- along with an increase in the number of blade systems from IBM.

Silicon Graphics Inc.'s Columbia system at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif., is in third position with 51.87 TFLOPS. In fourth position now is one-time leader NEC Corp.'s Earth Simulator in Yokohama, Japan, with a Linpack benchmark performance of 35.86 TFLOPS.

The fastest supercomputer in Europe, an IBM machine called the MareNostrum cluster at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center in Spain, nabbed the No. 5 spot with a performance of 27.91 TFLOPS. Just behind it was another Blue Gene owned by Astron and run at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, with a performance of 27.45 TFLOPS.

"The biggest surprise for us is the dominance of Blue Gene at the very top end of the list," said IBM's Turek. He also pointed to MareNostrum's success as indicative of "a shift in the center of gravity outwards" through Europe away from the traditional supercomputer leaders Germany, France and the U.K.

IBM's success appeared to be at Hewlett-Packard Co.'s expense. Overall, 51.8% of the supercomputers on the Top500 list were IBM machines, up from 43.4% in November. HP still held second position but lost some ground, with its share of supercomputers on the list falling to 26.2% compared with 34.8% in November.

SGI stayed in third position, with its share up to 4.8% from 3.8% in November. Dell Inc. also improved its standing in fourth place, with its share growing to 4.2% versus 2.8% in November. NEC Corp. had fifth position in November, with 2.4%, but could muster only 1.6% for sixth place, while Cray Inc. held the fifth place this time around, with a 3.2 % share. That's up from November's 1.8%, when Cray was in seventh position. In terms of installed performance, IBM had a 57.9% share, followed by HP with 13.3% and SGI with 7.45%.

"The first thing to recognize is that there's a certain ebb and flow in the Top500 list" as companies roll out new supercomputers to customers, said Ed Turkel, product marketing manager for HP's high-performance computing (HPC) division. "If you look at where the high-performance computer market is growing, it's not in capacity systems; it's at the bottom of the market," where servers sell for $250,000 and below, he said.

Turkel cited recent figures from market research company IDC that gave HP 34% of HPC revenue for the first quarter of this year, five points ahead of IBM. "[IBM's] Blue Gene systems are a very, very small part of a very, very small part of the HPC market," he said.

There was a substantial shake-up in the Top500 list with half of the top 10 systems from November being displaced by newly installed systems and the last 201 systems from the November list being too small to be listed anymore.

Intel Corp.'s processors powered 333 systems on the list. The company's Pentium 4 was used in 175 supercomputers, and its Itanium 2 was in 79 of the systems. IBM's Power chips were used in 77 of the machines, while Intel's Xeon Extended Memory 64 Technology was used in 76 of the computers. HP's PA-RISC processors were used in 36 systems, and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron in 25 systems.

In global terms, the U.S. is still by far the market leader, with 294 of the top 500 supercomputers -- up from 274 in November. Japan had 23 systems, while Asia accounted for 58 supercomputers.

In Europe, which had 114 of the fastest supercomputers, Germany now has the most systems, 40, compared with the U.K.'s 32. Six months ago, the situation was reversed, with the U.K. leading in Europe with 42 systems compared with Germany's 35 systems.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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