U.S. pads lead in global supercomputing ranking

Panicky U.S. officials can calm down; the country's lead in supercomputers remains strong and is growing. Photos: Supercomputers at SC05

Two and a half years ago, federal officials were alarmed about U.S. competitiveness in supercomputers, which can model global weather, molecular interaction or simulate nuclear explosions, among other things.

But it appears their concerns might have been exaggerated.

In the new Top500 list of supercomputers, 305 of the machines on the list are installed in the U.S., up from 277 six months ago. The number of machines installed in Europe, China and Japan, meanwhile, dipped. Thirty four of the top 35 come from U.S. manufacturers or universities while 479 of the computers have a North American pedigree.

Supercomputers at SC05

IBM remained the dominant company in supercomputers. Big Blue accounted for five out of the top 10 supercomputers in the semiannual Top500 ranking, including the top three computers on the list. Overall, Big Blue accounted for 43.8 percent of the machines on the list, more than any other manufacturer or university.

The company's BlueGene/L, which knocked NEC's Earth Simulator from its top spot in November 2004, remained the top-ranked supercomputer in the world for the third time in a row. Installed in Lawrence Livermore National Labs, the computer has doubled in size in the past six months and now contains 131,076 processors. It will continue to grow.

"The limit is less of an issue of architectural characteristics than....what the customers are looking for," said Dave Turek, vice president of Deep Computing at IBM.

BlueGene/L can now churn 280.6 teraflops, or nearly 281 trillion calculations a second and is the only computer to exceed 100 teraflops.

"This system is expected to remain the number one supercomputer in the world for the next few editions of the Top500 list," wrote the Top500 organization in an outline of the list.

Other U.S.-based companies fared well too. Hewlett-Packard accounted for 33.8 percent of the computers, rebounding to 169 from a dip of 131 computers in June. Dell landed in the top 10 with the fifth-ranked "Thunderbird," an 8,000-processor supercomputer installed at Sandia National Laboratories.

Intel microprocessors were found in 333, or two-thirds, of the machines on the list. The number of supercomputers sporting Intel Itanium chips dropped drastically. Growth, however, was seen in those carrying 64-bit Intel Xeons or Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices.

The list, which will be released formally at the SC05 Supercomputing Conference in Seattle on Monday, ranks computers by how they perform on a benchmark, called Linpack. Linpack emphasizes how rapidly a computer performs a dense battery of floating point or decimal calculations.

The test doesn't completely examine performance, but it does provide a functional gauge for ranking supercomputers. Still, officials want to come up with different ways to rank these machines.

Companies and nations . For two and a half years, the now seventh-ranked Earth Simulator, which occupies a three-story building, sat atop the list. Worried about national competitiveness, U.S. federal officials began to push manufacturers to built even better custom machines.

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