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Jul 18 2015

Tianhe-2 Reigns Supreme among Supercomputers

Developed and run by China's National University of Defense Technology, Tianhe-2 – also known in English as MilkyWay-2 – leads the TOP500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers for the fifth consecutive time since it first took the top spot exactly two years ago. This kind of inertia appears to be rather typical among the highest-ranking systems on the list these days, as does a slowdown in performance growth observed by the TOP500 project, a group of HPC experts from the U.S. and Germany.

The stagnation becomes even more blatantly evident when you look at performance values and configurations. According to the June 2015 edition of the TOP500 list, the top six systems retained their positions despite the fact that there have been no improvements whatsoever – core counts, architectures, the number of petaflops (quadrillion calculations per second) achieved, and power consumption are exactly the same as they were in the previous edition from November last year. So Tianhe-2 with its 3.12 million processor cores (distributed across 260,000 Intel® Xeon® CPUs), 33.86 petaflops, and thirst for 17,808 kilowatts still takes the crown, offering nearly the same performance in a single system as the two runner-ups combined – Titan and Sequoia from the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, which clocked in at 17.59 and 17.17 petaflops, respectively. However, the number 2 and 3 seem to be considerably more efficient: running on 16-core AMD Opteron 6274 processors and NVIDIA K20x GPUs, Titan uses about one sixth of the CPU cores and 70 percent of the RAM built into Tianhe-2, while Sequoia employs round about 98k 16-core IBM Power processors with 1.5 million cores. As may be easily imagined, both systems are also far less power-hungry and settle for 8,209 and 7,890 kilowatts. Fujitsu's own K computer, which resides at Japan's RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science, once again retained its fourth position with 10.51 petaflops. This particular design builds on SPARC64 VIIIfx processors with a total of more than 705,000 cores and was the first to break the 10-petaflops-barrier when it topped the list for the second time in November 2011.

The remaining six of the top 10 systems belong to the 'single digit' group, that is to say, they deliver less than 9 petaflops, and their core/processor counts are typically much lower than those of the systems described above – with one exception. This group includes three more U.S.-based systems, two of which – Mira and Vulcan – are owned and operated by the DOE while the third one, aptly called Stampede, belongs to the University of Texas' Advanced Computing Center. Of the DOE machines, Mira came in fifth with a score of 8.59 petaflops, whereas Vulcan ranked as #10 with 4.29. With over 786,000 cores, Mira is also the above-named core count exception; Vulcan's 393,000 on the other hand are well below average in this bunch of compute monsters. The Top 10 is completed by two old-timers and one newbie. The former ones are from Europe and include the world's most energy-efficient supercomputer Piz Daint, run by the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre at Lugano, at #6; it's equipped with 115,984 cores – or 14,498 Xeon® CPUs – that deliver 6.27 petaflops while only requiring 2,325 kilowatts. The other European is Germany's JUQUEEN, located at the Forschungszentrum Jülich facility, which 'only' came in ninth with a performance of 5.01 petaflops, despite the fact that it runs on roughly 459,000 IBM Power processor cores – more than 3 times as many as its Swiss rival. Finally, the only new entry into the Top 10 is yet another Xeon-based system named Shaheen II, which resides at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah, Saudi-Arabia. According to the official press release, Shaheen II sports nearly 197,000 cores that achieve 5.54 petaflops, thus "making it the highest-ranked Middle East system in the 22-year history of the list and the first to crack the Top 10." And a pretty 'green' one at that, since Shaheen II only consumes 2,834 kilowatts – the second best value after Piz Daint.

Aside from that, the June list confirms that the U.S. still has the highest global concentration of supercomputers with 233 systems, two more than a half year ago. (Yet the country loses ranking ground – the November 2013 edition had listed 265 US-based systems.) Next in place is Europe with 141 supercomputers now in operation, eleven more than last November; relative investment was highest in Germany and Poland, and Germany now leads the continental list with 37 systems, up over a third from 22 six months ago. Asia has gone down from 120 to 108 systems; 39 Japanese systems include seven more since the November edition, while China suffered a big drop in TOP500 entries, with a decline of almost 50% from 61 on the previous to 37 systems on the current list. – The manufacturers' list names supercomputer specialist Cray Inc. as new global performance leader dlaiming 24% of the installed total capacity, up 5.8% since the end of last year. IBM loses its #1 position and comes in second with a share of 22.2%, down from 28% in the last edition – curiously, its loss exactly matches Cray's gain. And contrary to what you would guess from its loss in total supercomputing capacity, China has gained massive importance in the manufacturing sector: Lenovo finally entered the TOP500 both as a sole manufacturer with three systems and as co-manufacturer of 20 IBM that had previously been ascribed to Big Blue alone.

The complete TOP500 list and the press release can be found here and here.


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