Supercomputing Trends: Performance Lags, China Rises, Cray Gains

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Supercomputing Trends: Performance Lags, China Rises, Cray Gains

While the overall performance of systems continues to increase, that growth continues to slow. We look at these and other supercomputing trends.

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A Case of Stunted Growth

According to the organizers of the list, the total combined performance of all 500 systems this time was 420 petaflops (quadrillions of floating-point calculations per second), up from the 361 petaflops in July and 309 petaflops in November 2014. That's a slowdown in growth that's been occurring over the last two years.

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It's Static at the Top

The overall slowdown in performance can be seen in the continued low turnover at the top of the list. In the most recent list, there were only two new systems in the top 10: Trinity at No. 6 and Hazel Hen (pictured) at No. 8.

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It's Slow at the Bottom

For the past six years, the performance of the 500th—and last—system on the list has continued to lag behind historical trends. From 1994 to 2008, performance grew by 90 percent a year; since then, it has increased 55 percent annually. The last system on the list had a performance of 204.3 teraflops (trillions of calculations per second), compared with 164 teraflops in July.

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China on the Rise

Another overarching trend was the growing presence of China in the supercomputer space. On July's list, there were 37 supercomputers from China. On the current list, that number jumped to 109.

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Other Regions on the Decline

China's growth came at the expense of the United States, which saw its number of installed systems on the list fall from 231 in July to 200, the lowest number for the country since the list was started in 1993. Europe also saw a sharp decline, from 141 to 108, while Japan's share dropped from 40 to 36.

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China Also Still No. 1

The Tiahne-2 system, installed at China’s National University of Defense Technology, remained the fastest system on the list for the sixth consecutive time, with a performance (33.86 petaflops) almost twice that of the second-fastest system, Titan (17.59 petaflops).

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That May Change Soon

Other countries and vendors are gunning for Tianhe-2. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy—as part of its FastForward 2 program—has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to companies like IBM, Nvidia, Cray and Mellanox to build supercomputers that will be five to 10 times faster than Tianhe-2.

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Chinese Companies Also Making Some Noise

Lenovo's acquisition of IBM's x86 server business gave it some presence in on the Top500 list. Lenovo now has 25 systems on the list (up from three in July), with some that were listed as IBM systems now being listed as either IBM/Lenovo or Lenovo/IBM. In addition, Chinese vendor Sugon now has 49 systems on the list, overtaking IBM.

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Cray Surges Forward

The U.S. supercomputer maker claimed 24.9 percent share of installed total performance, up from 24 percent in July, and had five systems in the top 10. IBM was second, with a 14.9 percent share (down from 23 percent), followed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with 12.9 percent (a drop from 14.2 percent).

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More Petaflops, More Performance

There were 80 systems with a performance of more than 1 petaflop on the most recent list, up from 67 in July.

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Lots and Lots of Cores

Ninety-eight percent of the systems on the list use processors with six or more cores, while 88 percent use eight or more cores. Forty-seven percent use chips with 10 or more cores.

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The Use of Accelerators Speed Up

In all, 104 systems use GPU accelerators or coprocessors, an increase from 90 in July. Of these, 66 use Nvidia Tesla GPUs, and three use Radeon GPUs from Advanced Micro Devices. Twenty-seven use Intel's x86 Xeon Phi coprocessors, and four use a combination of Nvidia GPUs and Xeon Phis.

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China's Tianhe-2 Remains Atop Fastest Supercomputer List

There wasn't much change at the top end of the latest Top500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers. There were only two new systems listed in the top 10, and overall, the twice yearly list's organizers said that the average performance of all 500 systems continued a slowing trend that started in 2008. Six of the Top 10 systems were installed in 2011 or 2012. Tianhe-2 was installed in 2013, and Trinity, Hazel Hen and Shaheen II in 2015. However, there were changes at lower levels of the list, including China's growing presence at the expense of the United States and Europe. In the top 10, China's Tianhe-2—which means "Milky Way"—supercomputer, housed at the country's National University of Defense Technology, retains its position at the top of the list, almost doubling the performance of Titan, which is No. 2. The two new systems in the top 10 are both based on Cray's Intel Xeon-based...
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