Linux continues to rule supercomputers

If you want a really fast computer, then Linux is your operating system and Intel may be your chip manufacturer.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The June 2013 Top500 supercomputer list is in, and 476 of the top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world run Linux.

Whether you measure supercomputing by number of systems or overall performance, Linux rules.
Image: Top500

Is that good enough for you? While Linux fans and critics obsess about Linux's failure to sweep Windows off the desktop, they're ignoring that Linux is winning everywhere else, and that when it comes to the highest of high-end computing, Linux rules.

Driving the point home, the top 10 fastest supercomputers all run Linux of one sort or the other. You have to go the way to the 44th fastest computer, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts box, which runs IBM's AIX Unix variant, to find one that doesn't run Linux.

Windows? A mere three supercomputers run Windows. The fastest of these, Magic Cube at the Shanghai Supercomputer Center, which runs Windows High Performance Computing (HPC) 2008, placed 187th in the world.

What's interesting about this latest list isn't that Linux dominates. That's become a matter of course. When it comes to supercomputing, Linux rules. It's that simple.

Nor is it that China currently has the fastest supercomputer in the world. China has been working hard on catching up with the West in HPC.

No, the real surprise is that the Tianhe-2 (aka "Milky Way 2"), with its performance of 33.86 petaflop/s on the Linpack benchmark, came in with more than twice the performance of the top-rated system at the end of November 2012, and it did it on Intel chips.

Intel has long been well represented in supercomputers, but hasn't seized the top spot since 1997. The Milky Way 2, which won it the title, is powered by 32,000 of the 12-core Intel Xeon processors E5-2600 v2 based on Ivy Bridge architecture, and 48,000 Intel Xeon Phi co-processors, with a total system power of 17.8 megawatts. Intel claims that not only is Milky Way 2 "the fastest, but [it's] also one of the most power-efficient systems on the Top500 list."

Intel plans on keeping both the fastest and most power-efficient titles in the future with a new generation of Xeon Phi "Knight's Landing" chips. The company also wants to keep its dominance of the market as a whole. Just over 80 percent — 403 computers — out of the Top500 now use Intel processors.

Regardless of the hardware, when it comes to supercomputer dominance, the real champion is Linux. No matter what the architecture, the world's fastest computers run Linux, and there's no reason to think that will change anytime soon.

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