Linux dominates supercomputers as never before

The latest list of the fastest supercomputers in the world is out -- and not only does Linux rule, it's almost eliminated all of its competition.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

NEW YORK --  For years, Linux has ruled supercomputing. So, it came as no surprise to anyone at the Linux Enterprise End-User Summit near Wall Street that once again the Top500 group found in its latest supercomputer ranking that Linux was the fastest of the fast operating systems.

June 2014 Linux Supercomputers
With 97 percent of the world's fastest supercomputers running Linux, the open-source operating system has eliminated almost all its rivals.

As one Red Hat representative said, "The only thing that would be surprising about Linux being the top dog would be if anything else even came close." He doesn't have any reason to worry.

In the latest contest, not only did Linux dominate, but Linux showed that is slowly pushing out all its competitors. In the June 2014 Top 500 supercomputer list, the top open-source operating system set a new high with 485 systems out of the fastest 500 running Linux. In other words 97 percent of the fastest computers in the world are based on Linux.

Of the remaining 16, 13 run Unix. They appear to be running IBM AIX since they're all running on IBM Power processors. The fastest of these boxes, the United Kingdom's weather predicting system, ECMWF, ranked 60th in the world.

Two Windows boxes squeezed into the list. The best of these, coming in at 294th place, is at the Shanghai Supercomputer Center. The remaining supercomputer, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology machine, runs a mix of AIX/Unix and Linux. Solaris and BSD Unix no longer have even a toe-hold in the rankings.

The overall performance growth rate of all the systems, however, is at a historical low. For the slowest supercomputer, number 500, performance has "lagged behind historical growth trends for the past five years, a trajectory that now increases by only 55 percent each year. Between 1994 and 2008, however, the annual growth rate for the No. 500 systems’ performance was 90 percent."

The hardware vendors are trying to goose supercomputer performance by making faster processors. Intel's forthcoming Xeon Phi many-core chip, codenamed Knight's Landing, is designed to deliver up to three trillion double precision floating point operations per second (3 Teraflops) in a single processor socket. That's three times faster than Intel's current highest performance chip.

At the same time, Linux is tackling its own performance bottlenecks. A great deal of the talk at Linux Enterprise End-User Summit has been about how to drastically improve the latency in both storage and network stacks.

Why so much emphasis on performance when Linux is already the operating system of choice for anyone wanting the fastest computing? Because research and businesses, especially the stock markets and trading companies, not only want but need even faster computers. To meet this demand for ever more speed, Linux is not resting on its laurels but working hard on going ever faster.

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