President Barack Obama mentioned China’s top-ranked supercomputer in two separate speeches, including last year’s State of the Union address, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warned that America’s innovation leadership was at risk.
The Linux-based IBM Sequoia system that tops the latest list is powered by Power BQC 16-core processors running at 1.6GHz, and mostly relies on architecture and parallelism, not Moore’s Law, to achieve speeds of 16.32 sustained petaflops. Sequoia, an IBM BlueGene/Q, is installed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“We’re at the point where the processors themselves aren’t really getting any faster,” said Michael Papka, deputy associate director for computing, environment and life sciences at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, which runs a similar IBM system that placed third on the list. “Moore’s Law is generally slowing down and we’re [getting faster speeds] by parallelism.”
“The classic trick of waiting for Moore’s Law to come along and help you out really doesn’t exist anymore,” added David Turek, vice president of exascale computing at IBM.
Both the Sequoia supercomputer and the Mira system housed at the Argonne lab are among the first IBM supercomputers to use water-cooling technology.
The most striking thing about the list, though, to Jack Dongarra, a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee and a leader of the Top500 program, is that more than half of the machines on it aren’t deployed in research, in academic settings or by government.
“More than half are used by industry,” he said. “Industry gets it. These machines are important; they can provide some competitive advantage.”
Europeans, in particular, are moving aggressively to build out commercial supercomputing capability, despite all the troubles their economies are facing. “The Europeans weren’t keeping pace,” Dongarra noted. “Today, we see a resurgence.”
The European machines in the top 10 — two in Germany, one in Italy and one in France — are new, he said.
IBM made 213 of the systems on the list, including five of the top 10. Hewlett-Packard was the second most well-represented computer maker, with 141 of the 500 systems. Nearly 75% of the systems listed run on Intel processors, and 13% use AMD chips.