High Performance Computing market trends

"Who's Who" in High Performance Computing

TOP500 Celebrates 10th Anniversary
Erich Strohmaier

Now in its 10th year, the TOP500 list of supercomputers serves as a "Who's Who" in the field of high performance computing (HPC). The TOP500 list was started in 1993, compiling and publishing twice a year a list of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. But it is more than just a ranking system and serves as an important source of information for analyzing trends in HPC. This article analyzes some major trends in HPC based on the quantitative data gathered over the years in the TOP500 project (For complete access to all data and further analysis, visit www.top500.org).

The list of manufacturers active in this market segment has changed continuously and quite dramatically during the 10-year history of this project. And while the architectures of the systems in the list also have seen constant change, it turns out that the overall increase in the performance levels recorded is rather smooth and predictable. The most important single factor for this growth is the increase of processor performance described by Moore's Law. However, the TOP500 list clearly illustrates that HPC performance has actually outpaced Moore's Law, due to the increasing number of processors in HPC systems.

During the 1980s at the University of Mannheim, Germany, we started collecting data and publishing statistics about the supercomputer market. At that time, it was relatively simple to define what a supercomputer was, as vector systems such as the Cray Y-MP delivered otherwise unmatched computing performance. Thus, a simple count of vector systems provided good statistics of the HPC market. At the beginning of the 1990s, a considerable number of companies competed in the HPC market with a large variety of architectures, such as vector computer, mini vector computer, SIMD (single instruction on multiple data) and MPP (massively parallel processing) systems. A clear and flexible definition was needed to decide which of these systems was a supercomputer. This definition needed to be independent of architecture. Because of Moore's Law, this definition also had to be dynamic to deal with the constant increase in computer performance.

Consequently, in early 1993, the TOP500 idea was developed by Professor Hans Meuer and Erich Strohmaier at the University of Mannheim. The basic idea was to list the 500 most powerful computer systems installed around the globe and to call these systems supercomputers. The number 500 was picked based on our earlier market surveys, which indicated that more than 500 but fewer than 1, 000 major vector systems had been installed at that time. The problem then was how to define how powerful a computer system is. For this task we decided to use the performance results of the Linpack benchmark from Jack Dongarra, as this was the only benchmark for which results were available for nearly all systems of interest [1].

Since 1993, we have published the TOP500 twice a year using Linpack results. Over the years, the TOP500 has served well as a tool to track and analyze technological, architectural and other changes in the HPC arena [2]. Table 1 shows the top 10 systems as of June 2003. The TOP500 lists the Japanese Earth Simulator System as clearly the world's largest supercomputer since June 2002.

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