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Jun 25 2018

Changing of the Guard? USA Reclaim Top Spots on TOP500 List of Supercomputers

After five years of Chinese dominance, U.S. institutions and supercomputer makers managed to dethrone the seemingly invincible duet of Sunway TaihuLight and Tianhe-2A and replace them with their exorbitantly powerful Summit and Sierra systems. Fujitsu, whose Oakforest-PACS and K computer systems dropped to position nos. 12 and 16 respectively, turned in a good performance nonetheless with its AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI), which debuted at #5.

The new American 'superstars,' which also happen to be debutantes, offer quite a bundle of surprises for HPC nerds. First off, they both employ what would seem like rather generic CPUs in the world of supercomputing, namely IBM's POWER9 superscalar symmetric multiprocessors that were first introduced at the Hot Chips Symposium in August 2016. Both systems use 22-core chip configurations alongside NVIDIA Volta GV100 GPGPUs, but while Summit currently encompasses 4,356 nodes and a total of nearly 2.3 million cores, Sierra clocks in at 4,320 nodes with roughly 1.6 million cores. Total system memory amounts to 2.8 PB for Summit and 1.29 PB for Sierra, and both installations utilize EDR InfiniBand interconnects. Based on the number of nodes and other configuration details, one might guess that the performance gap between the two isn't too wide – and be surprised to find that Summit scored 122.3 petaflops in the High Performance Linpack (HPL) benchmark that underlies the bi-annual supercomputer ranking, whereas Sierra delivered 'only' 71.6 petaflops. Due to these test results, Summit now holds the no. 1 position on the TOP500 list, and Sierra came in third. Former leaders Sunway TaihuLight (93 petaflops) and Tianhe-2A (61.4 petaflops) dropped to ranks 2 and 4 respectively and also lost their leading position in combined petaflops to the U.S.-based systems, which now lead by an almost inconceivable margin of 39.5 petaflops, more than twice as much as the lead the Chinese systems had achieved in June 2017.

For Fujitsu, the latest TOP500 list offered mixed results: On the one hand, both Oakforest-PACS and the K computer, which had come in ninth and tenth in December, were effectively relegated from the top 10. In the case of Oakforest-PACS, which now resides at number 12, the drop-off ends a relatively short-lived 12-month run among the leading systems. With regard to the K computer, which came in at number 16, things are almost a little tragic, because its decline marks the first time that it doesn't retain a top 10 position since its almost legendary debut in June 2011, when it immediately grabbed the #1 spot. On the other hand, Fujitsu's hardware developers needn't grieve too much, because another of their systems is a fresh entry at number 5: ABCI, which is operated by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), scored a solid 19.88 petaflops and came in ahead of Switzerland's Piz Daint, Europe's strongest entry. ABCI mainly consists of off-the-.shelf PRIMERGY CX2550 M4 scale-out servers equipped with 20-core Intel® Xeon® 6148 Gold Processors; the total core count amounts to nearly 392,000, accompanied by 418 TB of memory and yet more InfiniBand interconnects. Moreover, Fujitsu and its longtime supercomputing partner RIKEN are getting ready to strike back: As we've noted before, the so-called Post-K System is scheduled to debut in 2021.

For more information, including on general supercomputing trends and the Green500 list of the world's most energy-efficient supercomputers, please see the TOP500 press release.


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