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Jul 05 2014

Swiss Piz Daint System Is the Greenest Top 10 Supercomputer

It's that time of the year again: in late June and early July, HPC experts all over the world are awaiting the release of the TOP500 and Green500 lists that tell them which of their purpose-built supercomputers are the most powerful and energy-efficient.

Initially, both lists didn't have too much in common – not much of a surprise considering the major differences that exist between a poll that's based solely on performance and another that aims to measure performance per watt. For a good while, those differences were big enough to help pass over the somewhat delicate issue that to qualify for the Green500 list, a system first had to rank among the TOP500 – a rule that basically excludes less powerful systems that may still appear as supercomputers to the average eye from the efficiency competition. In the past two or three years, however, keen observers have noticed a new trend: nowadays, a good portion of the world's most powerful machines could also ensure top spots among the "greenest" systems. The trend is best exemplified by Piz Daint, a Cray XC30 supercomputer residing at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre in Manno, Ticino that was built from 14,500 Intel Xeon E5-2670 processors with a total of 115,984 cores, an Aries interconnect, and NVIDIA Tesla K20X GPUs. With this setup, Piz Daint delivered a total of 6.27 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second) sustained maximum performance and 3,186 megaflops per watt, thus coming in 6th among the world's fastest and 5th among its most energy-efficient systems. Close runner-ups for energy efficiency were two other European supercomputers, namely HPC2, an iDataPlex used by Italian oil and gas company Eni S.p.A. for exploration and production (3.0 petaflops/2,813 megaflops per watt – 11th and 9th place), and JUQUEEN, a Blue Gene/Q-based configuration located at Germany's Forschungszentrum Juelich, which came in at position #8 on the TOP500 and at position #29 on the Green500 list, reaching 2.3 petaflops and 2,177 megaflops per watt, respectively.

Further judging from the lists, green supercomputing does in fact seem like a European domain. At least five out of the ten most energy-efficient systems are located in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK, with the "second greenest" – named Wilkes (after Maurice Wilkes, one of Britain's leading computer pioneers and inventor of EDSAC, the first electronic digital stored-program computer) – residing at the University of Cambridge. Wilkes delivers a maximum of 239.9 teraflops at 3,632 megaflops per watt. That still leaves lots of room to compete with TSUBAME-KFC, the "emerald" machine from the GSIC Center at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, which racks up 4,390 megaflops per watt but only reaches a comparatively "low" 150.4 teraflops in performance benchmarks (#437 on the TOP500 list). Fujitsu's own K computer, which first entered the TOP500 list at number 1 in June 2011, still retains a very respectable fourth position among the most powerful systems with 10.5 petaflops and did okay in terms of efficiency, scoring 830.2 megaflops per watt (#125).

For more information, check the homepages of the Green500 and TOP500 projects.

 
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