Where Linux rules: Supercomputers

Linux is everywhere, except on traditional PCs. But when it comes to total platform domination, you can't beat Linux on supercomputers.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The latest Top 500 Supercomputer list is out. At the very tip-top, you'll find Tianhe-2. This supercomputer, developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, is once more the world’s fastest supercomputer with a performance of 33.86 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second) on the Linpack benchmark. Also on top, as it has been for more than a decade now, you'll find Linux.

Top 500 SuperComputers November 2013 by OS
When it comes to supercomputers. Linux rules.

When it comes to supercomputers, Linux is the operating system of choice and it has been since 2004. The latest round-up of the world's fastest computers underlines just how dominant Linux is in supercomputers.

In the November 2013 listing, 482 of the world's top supercomputers run Linux. The free, open-source operating system is followed by Unix, with eleven; four systems running a mix of operating systems, two with Windows and a single system running BSD Unix. That's an advantage of 96.4 percent for Linux to 3.6 percent for everyone else, if you're keeping score at home.

The vast majority of these Linux hot-rod computers use cluster architectures with 86.4 percent. Only 15.4 percent use a massively parallel processor (MPP) design.

A related development, behind the high-tide of Linux, is that most of these supercomputers use AMD and Intel chips. To be exact, 82 percent use Intel Xeon chips with the Xeon E5 SandyBridge processor leading the way. 9 percent use AMD Opteron and 8 percent use IBM Power processors. All of these chips can, and do, run Linux on supercomputers.

Just over 10 percent of supercomputers, 53 systems, use accelerator/co-processor technology. Of these, 38 use NVIDIA chips, 13 systems with Intel's Xeon Phi and two use ATI Radeon.

Looking ahead, the supercomputer testers are well aware that the Linpack benchmark is dated. Jack Dongarra, distinguished professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee, creator of the TOP500 and Linpack's inventor, is working on a new supercomputer benchmark: the High Performance Conjugate Gradient.

We don't have a date yet for when the HPCG will appear. We can, however, be certain that whenever it appears, Linux will still be the top supercomputer operating system.

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