Hardware

Which Linux-powered behemoth is the world's top supercomputer?

Check out the state of supercomputing in the world with the newly published list from Top500 Supercomputer Sites.

It's not news that Linux powers most of the world's fastest supercomputers, but have you ever actually seen the list? I was not aware that there was an organization set up to track all those supercomputers and publish the details, but today I found Top500 Supercomputer sites and its latest Top500 list for June 2010. BBC News has a very cool graphical representation of the list.

According to its Objectives page:

Our list has been compiled twice a year since June 1993 with the help of high-performance computer experts, computational scientists, manufacturers, and the Internet community in general who responded to a questionnaire we sent out; we thank all the contributors for their cooperation. We have also used parts of statistical lists published by others for different purposes.

Top500 uses the Linpack Benchmark to rate the performance of the supercomputers, which you can find out more details about by following the link. So, what's on top right now? The title belongs to the Jaguar - Cray XT5-HE Opteron Six Core 2.6 GHz at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the United States, with peak speeds around 2.33 petaflops -- powered by Linux, of course.

Photo Credit: National Center for Computational Sciences

The Oak Ridge lab's news release states:

Capable of calculating over a thousand trillion calculations per second (a "petaflops"), Jaguar became the fastest supercomputer in the world for unclassified research. Jaguar is capable of simulating physical systems with heretofore unfeasible speed and accuracy-from the explosions of stars to the building blocks of matter.

So, what's an example of what is being done with all this computing power? Simulating a supernova, for one. A 2009 Wired magazine article looked into the potential research that astrophysicists and biologists would be conducting using the Jaguar's immense capabilities:

Starting in 2010, some of them will have the chance to run the biggest and most intricate simulations ever, creating experimental galaxies, plasma fusion reactors and global climates to help solve some of science's most complex problems.

Image: Climate research at ORNL

Jaguar will be used to simulate supernovas to see what happens right after the first shockwave begins and also to explore the dark matter "halo" surrounding the Milky Way.

Check out the related TechRepublic gallery, TOP500 lists the world's fastest supercomputers.

Warning: All of the links provided here will probably lead you down all sorts of geeky rabbit holes, the same way they did me, so allow some extra weekend time to explore.

About

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

8 comments
p8178937
p8178937

to calculate the results of a supernova? Couldn't it be done on slower computers? Why the urgency? Is there something we are not being told?

SysAdminII
SysAdminII

Which particular flavor of Linux do they run? Or do they use a modified version of Linux? I know that NASA has used Debian in the past to troubleshoot different scenarios along with RedHat.

mileswade
mileswade

Actually a better choice would be to let the supercomputer play PacMan and let it record all of the different play options until it found the most optimum one. Just like in War Games. And then it would refuse to play. Selena: Is your middle name Alice? Just wondering. That reference to rabbit holes.......

doep100
doep100

All good and well, but can I play Pacman on them? ;-)

Jaqui
Jaqui

how many run Windows? I can count them on the toes of one hand :D yup, ZERO, cause windows isn't capable of running them. doesn't say much for these MS powered businesses, they use a lower quality os. ;)

darpoke
darpoke

Perhaps these people would simply like to see the outcome within their lifetime. Not likely on your typical Spectrum ZX... :-)

itadmin
itadmin

If Pacman is ported to Linux and installed on this computer I'm sure you'd be able to have a very fast game of Pacman.

.Martin.
.Martin.

if you go to the graphical representation (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/10187248.stm). then reorder by OS, there are actually 5 of the top 500 running Windows. I have to admit that is tiny compared to the 470 odd Linux run super computers, but the windows ones are still there ;)