IBM Reigns Supreme in Supercomputer Production

IBM’s speed in the supercomputer world remains unchallenged today. The company not only maintained its hold on the top ranking spot among all supercomputers with its Blue Gene/L System, which doubled its own speed in the Top500 biannual listing of the world’s fastest machines, but Big Blue built the second- and third-fastest machines as well.

In all, IBM makes 43.8 percent of the 500 fastest supercomputers.

Top Three

Blue Gene/L, installed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif., processed a record Linpack mark of 280.6 teraflops — or 280.6 trillion floating point calculations — per second, with 65,536-processors. Six months ago, the supercomputer reached 136.8 teraflops/s, the first time a computer had broken the 100 teraflop mark. It still stands as the only one to top that speed.

The Linpack benchmark tests peak performance.

The IBM eServer Blue Gene Solution system, installed at IBM’s Thomas Watson Research Center, stands in second place with a 91.2 teraflop performance, and the Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) Purple system at Livermore Labs ranked third, at 63.4 teraflops. ASC Purple contains more than 12,000 Power5 processors, different from the Blue Genes, which use specially made Power chips.

But speed is not IBM’s be-all and end-all, a company spokesman said.

“It’s not so much that we try to go faster, it’s that we are trying to provide whatever customers are looking for,” he said.

Supercomputers for Sale

Customers can buy a Blue Gene supercomputer for about US$2 million per each 1,024-processor rack. IBM also rents their computing power out.

Blue Gene/L, which gained its top ranking a year ago, will eventually be used by the Nuclear Security Administration (NSA) to performed the complicated calculations necessary to understand the effects of aging on the United States’ nuclear weapons cache.

When Blue Gene/L first topped the list with a Linpack mark of 70.6 teraflops/s, it overtook NEC’s Earth Simulator, a Japanese machine that had held the title of fastest computer since June 2002. The Earth Simulator held its position through five lists with a speed of 35.9 teraflops/s, but that is now only good enough for seventh place.

Hewlett-Packard ranks second in the number of supercomputers on the list, with 33.8 percent.

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