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Latest Top500 Supercomputer List Includes Fewer Life Science Systems as Entry Level Rises to 20 Tflops

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By Bernadette Toner

The most recent ranking of the world's fastest supercomputers only includes four machines dedicated to life science applications — down from five in the last version of the Top500 list released six months ago — as the minimum speed required to be included on the list increased to 20 teraflops.

The 97.1-teraflop, 18,176-core "Chinook" HP cluster at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory is the fastest life science machine on the list. It holds the No. 48 spot — down from No. 34 in the last version of the twice-yearly ranking, which was released in June.

Two other life science systems remain from the June list: a 54-teraflop, 5,760-core Sun Microsystems blade system at the University of Tokyo's Human Genome Center that fell to the No. 84 spot in the current list from the No. 69 spot in June; and a 30.1-teraflop Dell system at Arizona State University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which fell to No. 222 from No. 160 six months ago.

They were joined by a new life science machine: a 24-teraflop, 5,712-core, HP cluster at health informatics firm Cerner, which made its debut on the current list at the No. 375 spot (see Table 1, below, for details of the life science systems on the list).

IBM’s 18.7-teraflop "Blue Protein" system at the AIST Computational Biology Research Center in Japan, which came in at No. 393 in June, and a 17.2-teraflop IBM cluster at an undisclosed "life science" organization that held the No. 495 spot, did not make the 20-teraflop minimum performance requirement for the current list [BioInform 06-26-09].

While the life science systems max out at just under 100 teraflops, the top-ranking machines on the current list are now squarely in the petaflop range. The fastest machine, a Cray XT5 supercomputer at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility known as "Jaguar," posted a maximum speed of 1.75-petaflops and a theoretical peak capability of 2.3 petaflops.

Jaguar beat IBM's 1.04-petaflop Roadrunner, which debuted on the June 2008 list as the world's first petaflop supercomputer and has held the top spot since that time.

The latest list indicates that IBM and HP are still the primary supercomputing vendors. HP has maintained its lead over IBM with 209 systems installed, compared to 212 in the June list. IBM manufactured 185 systems on the current Top500 list, compared to 186 in June.

Cray and SGI follow, with 19 systems each on the current list, while Dell had 16 and Sun claimed 11 (see Table 2, below, for details on manufacturer rankings).

The share of clusters in the Top500 list continues to increase, with 417 cluster-based systems in the current list compared to 410 six months ago (see Table 3, below, for details).

Multi-core processor-based systems are also gaining ground, with 426 quad-core systems in the current list, up from 383 in the June ranking. Of the current Top500 systems, 59 systems are using dual-core processors, and only four systems are based on single-core processors. Six systems are using IBMs Sony PlayStation 3 processor with nine cores, and three systems are using the six-core Shanghai AMD Opteron processors.

Intel processors are dominant, with 402 machines on the current list using them as opposed to 399 six months ago. IBM Power processors are the second most commonly used processor family with 52 systems, down from 55 in June. The AMD Opteron claims 42 systems in the current list, nearly flat with 43 in the June ranking (see Table 4, below, for details).

In terms of operating systems, the share of Linux machines increased to 446 systems from 433 in the June list. "Mixed" operating systems were the next-most popular, with 23 systems on the Top500, followed by Unix machines, which made up 25 systems on the current list.

The complete Top500 ranking is available here.

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