Linux still owns supercomputing

In the latest Top500 supercomputer ranking, Linux once more totally dominates the fastest of all computers.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Once more the best of the best supercomputer experts came together to decide which are the fastest of the fast computers. Number one with a bullet continues to be Tianhe-2, aka Milky Way-2, a Chinese supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology. Its operating system? Linux of course.

Linux Supercomputer Rankings 112014
Linux "owns" supercomputing and has for over a decade now.

That's no surprise. For years, Linux has dominated supercomputing. The November 2014 Top 500 supercomputer ranking found 485 out of the world's fastest 500 computers running Linux. That's 97 percent for those of you without a calculator at hand.

Compared to that, Windows on desktops and Android on smartphones are pikers.

Linux has grown to own supercomputing since it first appeared on the Top 500 list in June 1998 because it simply works well in creating ultra-fast computers. Unix, which once dominated the bi-annual listings is down to a mere 13 systems, 2.6 percent. The remaining two supercomputers consists of a system running a mixed operating system and a single Windows system.

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Regardless of operating system, supercomputers are still getting faster. Tianhe-2 took the championship this time with a performance of 33.86 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second) on the Linpack benchmark. However, the rate that supercomputers are picking up speed has slowed down. IBM and NVIDA hope to change that in the coming year.

Supercomputing technology continues to improve. Many of the top systems, such as Tiange-2 and the No. 7 system, Stampede, are using an accelerator/co-processor to boost speed. With co-processors such as Intel Xeon Phi processors NVIDIA GPUs, they've been able to set new speed records.

Today, 75 Top 500 systems use accelerator/co-processor technology. That's up from 62 supercomputers in November 2013. According to the Top 500 group, "Fifty of these use NVIDIA chips, three use ATI Radeon, and there are now 25 systems with Intel MIC technology, Xeon Phi. Intel continues to provide the processors for the largest share, 85.8 percent, of Top 500 systems."

As for the makers of these fast systems, while HP is the top dog with 179 or 36 percent, IBM is nipping at HP's heels with 153 systems or 35.2 percent. Supercomputer specialist, Cray is third with 62 systems or 12.4 percent.

It's hard to guess whether IBM or HP will be the top supercomputer vendor in the next go-around, but one thing is certain: Linux will continue to rule supercomputers.


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