​Linux still rules supercomputing

The latest Top500 list of supercomputers is out and Linux, as ever, is the top pick for the world's fastest computers.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The latest list of the world's fastest supercomputers, Top500 June 2015, shows the fastest of the fast growing ever more powerful. It also shows Linux is still number one with a bullet when it comes to supercomputing.

Tianhe-2, the world's fastest supercomputer, runs, like almost all other supercomputers, Linux.
Overall, the total combined performance of all 500 systems has grown to 363 Petaflops per second (Pflop/s). Last November, the sum of all supercomputers hit 309 Pflop/s and a year ago it was "only" 274 Pflop/s. This performance is measured by the Linpack benchmark.

That may sound impressive, and it is, but it's not as remarkable as it may seem. This increase in installed performance actually represents a noticeable slowdown in growth.

What seems to be happening is that countries and companies aren't investing that much in the largest supercomputers. For example, the only new entry in the Top 10 supercomputers is Shaheen II, a Cray XC40 system installed at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, in the seventh spot. And, the fastest computer of them all, China's National University of Defense Technology's Tianhe-2 supercomputer? It's still number one with the same performance it had when it first hit the charts in 2013.

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On the other end, the 500th fastest turned in a performance of 153.6 teraflops per second. This represents the lowest turnover rate in the list in the more than two decades the Top500 benchmarks have been around.

As for chips, Intel's Xeon E5 chip continues to rule. Taken together, three Xeon E5 generations -- SandyBridge, IvyBridge, and Haswell -- are in 80 percent of the systems. With Intel's Xeon E7 arriving in August, it's safe to predict that supercomputers will be using this new, faster chip. If deployed quickly enough, the next Top500 supercomputer list in November 2015 should show a performance up-tick.

And what will be powering those next-generation supercomputers? The same operating system that's powering them today: Linux. The open-source operating system now runs 486 of the world's fastest computers. Last November, it was running 485 of the top computers. No other operating system is even in the race.

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