Super Computing 2010 November Meet, New Orleans

Petaflops are so 2009! Exaflops on 2020 horizon. Linux unsung hero of HPC list.

A poster* on the website sums it up, the fastest single high performance computer in the world broke the petaflop** barrier a year ago and is racing on to the exaflop which should be achieved sometime around 2020. At the SC10 Conference on High Performance Computing this month the winner was ... China’s Tianhe 1A, located at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin with 2.57 petaflops. Tianhe is a CPU/GPU combo with a core count of 186,368 and a healthy 260 terabytes of RAM. Three out of the top five machines use Nvidia GPUs (graphics processing units) to accelerate computation.

The Chinese machine is reported as being used, inter alia, for oil and gas exploration (seismic imaging). Seven machines in the TOP500 list broke the petaflop barrier. But it should be noted that commercial seismic processors are conspicuous by their absence from the TOP500—no doubt due to a lack of time and inclination to reveal their secret sauces.

Despite its 2007 claim to ‘dominate’ HPC (Oil IT Journal March 2007), Microsoft continues to slide down the TOP500. The Shanghai Supercomputer Center’s Dawning 5000A running Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 took the number 10 slot in 2008 is now down at N° 35 in an apparently unchanged configuration.

Intel still dominates the high end processor market with an 80% share. AMD’s Opteron family follows with 11%. IBM Power processors follow with 8%. Power consumption is a limiting factor in HPC. 25 systems on the list use over a megawatt of electrical power. IBM’s prototype BlueGene/Q system set a new record in power efficiency with a value of 1,680 Mflops/watt, more than twice that of the next best system.

The more or less unsung hero of the TOP500 remains Linux with 99 out of the top 100 machines running Linux or a derivative. Those who believe that Linux’ success is limited to the engineering sector may be interested in a report*** in Computer World UK which revealed that the London Stock Exchange’s new Linux-based system is now delivering world record networking speed with 126 microsecond trading times.

The Linux-based system replaces Microsoft .Net technology ‘criticized on speed and reliability and grappling with trading speeds of several hundred microseconds.’ The New York Stock Exchange is also a Linux shop. More from You can also download an Excel spreadsheet with the complete TOP500 stats from


** 1015 floating point operations per second. measures this using the standard HPLinpack program. Your mileage may vary.


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