November 13, 2005 9:01 PM PST

U.S. pads lead in global supercomputing ranking

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IBM and others, meanwhile, said that supercomputers needed to be made from components that could be standardized for commercial use. IBM largely won the debate. The technology behind BlueGene/L, while exotic now, will trickle down to commercial systems, Turek said.

The computer was also designed to economize on space and energy. In all, BlueGene/L fits into 64 computer racks, which can fit into a standard-size computer room in a large corporation. It also consumes around 1.5 to 1.7 megawatts, Turek added.

"That's still a lot of watts, but if you constructed a Linux cluster to provide (about) the same performance, you might be in the twenty megawatt range," Turek said. "Because we take a building block approach, the way we look at it is, if you build something for 64 racks, you ought to be able to sell someone a half rack."

Although the federal government has been more supportive of supercomputing research in the past few years, BlueGene/L actually kicked off in December 1999. Initially, it was a research project, but as time went on, IBM began to design the machine with commercialization in mind.

Turek recalled the mid-'90s, when he told designers on the project, "I don't know where the future is going to be, but how about we run Linux on this so we can run applications on it."

Other facts and trends from the list:

• The list remains incredibly fluid. Four of the top 10 systems were displaced by completely new computers, while 221 computers from the list that came out in June are now too small to include on the list.

• The rapid turnover is partly the result of clustering servers to build a supercomputer. In the past, many supercomputers were designed as an organic whole. Clusters now account for 72 percent of the machines on the list, although the clusters become more prevalent as the list descends. In June, clusters accounted for just 61 percent.

• In terms of processors, what's popular in servers also works in supercomputers. Intel 32-bit x86 processors, the same architecture behind most Xeon servers and Pentium 4 desktops, powered 206 of the systems. The second most popular chip architecture was the 64-bit version of Intel x86 processors, found in 81 of the machines. The combined types of Power chips animate in 81 computers.

• Opteron is eating Itanium. Fifty five of the computers on the list sported an AMD Opteron chip, up from 25 in June. Intel's Itanium powered only 46 of the systems, down from 79 in the June ranking.

• Industry remains the big consumer of supercomputers. Commercial organizations own 266 on the list while 121 are in research labs and 70 toil in academia.

• Gigabit Ethernet is the most popular way to connect chips inside these beasts: 249 computers on the list use it. Myrinet is found in 101 of the systems.

• Apple Computer has one computer on the list: a 448-processor machine at Maryland's Bowie State University. It clocks in at No. 308. There are three others on the list, however, that are considered "self-made" by the organization that consist of Apple servers.

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5 comments

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Apple has more than one machine in the top 500
Even one as high as 15th called the MACH5 with only 3072
processors. System X out of Virginia Tech is 20th.
Posted by wobbble (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The xServe at 303 is at UCLA, not Bowie State
The Bowie State Apple cluster is ranked 308
Posted by Arthur Young (19 comments )
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Apple actually has . . .
. . . two in the top twenty. COLSA is number 15 and Virginia Tech
is number 20. There are others as well, however there's no
Windows on the list.
Posted by rbannon (96 comments )
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I thought we were "falling behind"...
Hey this article doesn't fit the journalistic meme du jour that the US is "falling behind" in research, didn't you guys get the talking points fax?

You should at least add a paragraph saying "But American researchers mostly use supercomputers just to download porn."
Posted by MikeDson (50 comments )
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Apple and list
The organization lists only one super from apple. It's in the PDF by manufacturer. (it's page seven of the pdf-link on front door of their site.) In the counting, they apparently count the others as self-mades. but can clarify.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
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