Supercomputer list and trends in multi-petaflop computers and the path to exaflops

Today’s Top 500 announcement shows a slight slowing in supercomputer improvement that we began to spot over the last year and a half. From 1994 to 2008 [performance] grew by 90% per year. Since 2008 it only grows by 55% per year. And when you take a close look at the list over the last couple of years, you’ll see that the reason why that declining figure isn’t more pronounced is simply because the top tier of the list is propping it up—most notably with the addition of the Tianhe-2 system, which holds 13.7% of the performance share of the entire list.

When examined as a whole, we’re falling off except at the highest end…but what does this mean for end user applications? Is high end computing getting smarter in terms of efficiency and software to where, for real-world applications, FLOPS no longer matter so much? Many argue that’s the case…and some will await the new HPCG benchmark and forgo Linpack altogether in favor of a more practical benchmark. That hasn’t had an impact yet on this summer’s list but over time it will be interesting to watch.

But despite any perceived stagnation of this chart from the last couple of years, get ready, because the next few years are set to bring strong winds of change due to momentum with OpenPower and perhaps even AMD. The arrival of 64-bit ARM will shake things up as will new choices in chips, but expect a flat list at least through this time next year unless something completely unexpected happens

The number of Chinese systems in increasing. In addition to securing the number one spot by a significant margin, there are an additional 13 machines from China, bringing their total share of the Top 500 to 76. To put that in some perspective, the UK has 30, France has 27 and Germany has 23. Japan has contributed an additional two machines, bringing their total to 30.

When it comes to the overall list, performance is continuing to climb. The total of all machines on the November list is now 274 petaflops, compared to 250. To add further perspective, the total petaflop count across all machines reporting results was 223 petaflops.

The Tianhe-2 system, which stands at 33.86 petaflops (compared to the number two system at Oak Ridge National Lab, the Cray “Titan” machine, which offers 17.59 petaflops/s) has 16,000 nodes, each of which are outfitted with two Ivy Bridge and three Xeon Phis for a total of over 3 million cores is going to be a tough one to beat. As we noted earlier this year, China has plans to continue the build-out of this system in hopes of reaching exascale potential. The system is unique with a number of homegrown parts, including the TH Express-2 interconnect, OS, tooling and front-end processors. While it may be a powerhouse, the energy efficiency lags behind the “smaller” Titan machine. Tianhe-2 runs Linpack at 17.8 megawatts while the 261,632 core NVIDIA K20-boosted Cray system at Oak Ridge runs at 8.21 megawatts.

The IBM Sequoia system at Lawrence Livermore is holding steady at number three, which in its three years alive has topped out at 17.17 petaflops/s, not far behind Titan.

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