IBM holds lead on Top500 Supercomputers list

IBM's BlueGene/L tops the list of the world's 500 most powerful supercomputing systems

IBM has maintained its lead, and its bragging rights, over rivals in the number of supercomputer systems it operates throughout the world.

IBM holds a 47.8% share of the biannual Top500 Supercomputers list to be released this week at Supercomputing 2006, an industry convention in Tampa, Florida. Second-place Hewlett-Packard holds a 31.2% share of systems on the list.

The Top500 list, compiled by university researchers in the US and Germany, ranks supercomputer systems by performance as measured by teraflops, or trillions of computer calculations per second.

But even though supercomputer end users don't buy them for their energy efficiency, the Top500 list will begin to include power efficiency measures in its next list, due out in June 2007. In recent years, energy and the labour costs of managing computer systems have exceeded the cost of the hardware itself.

"We are looking at teraflops per watt and we are starting to track that and will at least provide the numbers," says Erich Strohmaier, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, and one of the list compilers. However, next year's list will still be ranked by computing performance.

Rankings based on processor brand shifted significantly with Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors taking market share from Intel processors. Intel's market share fell to 52.2% from 66.6% in the year ago survey, while AMD's doubled to 22.6% from 11%. IBM fell to third place despite seeing its share rise to 18.6% from 14.6%.

IBM claims the number one spot on the 500 list with its IBM BlueGene/L system, installed at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. It operates at a maximum processing speed of 280.6 Tflops/s (teraflops per second).

Supercomputing capabilities have been growing faster than Moore's Law, says Jack Dongarra, a distinguished professor in the Innovative Computing Laboratory at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, another one of the list creators. Moore's Law holds that computer processing power doubles every 18 months, but the supercomputing sector's has been doubling every 14 months.

Dongarra cites developments such as multiple core processing, enabling chips to handle several instructions simultaneously, and Gigabit Ethernet, moving data among a network of computers at 1 billion bits per second, for the surge in supercomputing power.

The aggregate processing power of all 500 systems on the latest list is 3.54 petaflops (Pflops), from 2.79Pflops in the June listing and 2.30Pflops a year ago. A petaflop is 1,000 teraflops.

Although HP's brand doesn't appear on the list until number 40, an AlphaServer system at the DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, HP and IBM are the only vendors with double-digit market share. Both of them lead in supercomputing because they lead in the industry standard x86 processor platform market, says Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, a market research firm.

"IBM sells a lot of different types of systems and there are a lot of x86 servers in the Top500," says Haff. "HP also has a very strong x86 line and in the Top500 space, vendors who can do some level of large scale integration and tend to have an advantage."

The US is home to the most supercomputing systems with 306, followed by Europe with 95, and Asia with 79.

The top five supercomputers on the list are as follows:

* BlueGene/L, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, US, IBM

* Red Storm, Sandia National Laboratories, US, Cray.

* BGW, The Thomas J. Watson Research Center, US, IBM

* ASC Purple, Department of Energy/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, US, IBM

* MareNostrum, Bareclona Computer Centre, Spain, IBM

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