IBM Brings the U.S. Back to Top of List of Fastest Supercomputers

Big Blue's Sequoia system speeds past Fujitsu's K Computer, which gives the United States the No. 1 position on the Top500 list for the first time since 2009.

IBM€™s Blue Gene/Q supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is now the world€™s fastest system, marking the return of a U.S. supercomputer to the top of the speed charts after three years.

According to the latest Top500 list of the world€™s fastest systems, IBM€™s supercomputer, named Sequoia and armed with more than 1.57 million Power cores, hit a performance of 16.32 petaflops per second, far outdistancing the former fastest system€”and now No. 2€”Fujitsu€™s K Computer, which had a performance of 10.5 petaflops.

The Fujitsu system was the first to break the 10-petaflop barrier, and spent all of 2011 at the top of the list, which is released twice a year. The K Computer, which is housed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan, is powered by 705,024 SPARC64 processing cores.

The latest Top500 list was released June 18 during the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg, Germany. It revealed a number of trends in the booming supercomputer space, including IBM€™s continued strength in the space, Intel€™s slight drop in the number of supercomputers running its processors and the United States€™ continued dominance, with Europe inching up a bit.

The latest list comes at a boom time for supercomputers. According to IDC analysts, the high-performance computing (HPC) technical server space is continuing to grow, particularly the supercomputer segment. In a report released June 15, IDC said revenue in the space increased 3.1 percent in the first quarter€”to $2.4 billion€”compared with the same time in 2011. Revenue for 2012 is expected to grow 7.1 percent, to $11 billion, and should reach $14 billion by 2016, the firm said.

"HPC [high-performance computing] technical servers, especially supercomputers, have been closely linked, not only to scientific advances but also to industrial innovation and economic competitiveness. For this reason, nations and regions across the world are increasing their investments in supercomputing, even in today's challenging economic conditions," Earl Joseph, program vice president for technical computing at IDC, said in a statement. "We expect the global race for HPC leadership in the petascale-exascale era to continue heating up during this decade."

According to the Top500 list€”compiled by Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim, Germany, Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville€”IBM has 213 systems on the list, taking a 42.6 percent share. Hewlett-Packard was second with 138 systems, or 27.6 percent, a slight drop from the 141 systems on the last list, released in November 2011. Cray followed with 5.4 percent, then Appro with 3.6 percent, and SGI and Bull, each with 3.2 percent.

IBM also has three of the top five€”and five of the top 10€”fastest systems on the list, including No. 3 Mira, another Blue Gene/Q system with a performance of 8.16 petaflops and 786,432 Power chips. In addition, along with being the fastest system in the world, Sequoia also is the most energy-efficient, according to list organizers.

Intel processors are powering 372€”or 74.4 percent€”of the systems on the list, a drop from the 384 systems on the list from November. Advanced Micro Devices€™ Opteron server chips are found in 63 systems, or 12.6 percent, about the same as on the previous list. IBM€™s Power chips have seen their share jump to 11.6 percent, from 49 in the last list to 58 systems this time.

Intel saw strong performances from its new Xeon E5-2600 processors, which the chip giant introduced in March. According to the company, 44 supercomputers on the list run on the Xeon E5-2600 chips, including the SuperMUC system in Germany, which is the fourth-fastest system. It hit a performance of almost 2.9 petaflops with 147,456 processing cores. The system is the most powerful in Europe.

"The Intel Xeon processor E5 family is powering exponential performance gains in high-performance computing, and we're proud that it is having such a profound impact on the industry as demonstrated by its presence inside 45 of the Top500 supercomputers," Raj Hazra, vice president and general manager of Intel€™s Technical Computing at Data Center and Connected Systems Group, said in a statement.

The United States€”which is back at the top of the list for the first time since 2009€”is home to 253 of the top 500 systems, a drop from 263 in the last list. The Asian market has 121 systems, compared with 118 in the last list, with China and Japan having the most in the region. Europe saw the number of its systems grow from 103 to 107, with the United Kingdom, France and Germany as the top three countries in that region.