Livermore’s Blue Gene/L  (Source: IBM)
IBM leads the TOP500 for the fourth consecutive year

IBM is once again number one for the 30th installment of the TOP500 supercomputer list. The newly upgraded BlueGene/L System -- a joint venture between IBM and the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory --  took top honors with a Linpack benchmark score of 478.2 TeraFLOPS.

The BlueGene/L has held the top spot since November 2004 and shows no signs of relinquishing its crown any time soon. The 478.2 TFLOPS performance of BlueGene/L marked a significant improvement over its pre-upgrade performance six months ago of “only” 280.6 TFLOPS.

The BlueGene/L which took top honors features 104 racks (64 pre-upgrade). Each rack contains 1,024 nodes with 2,048 IBM Power processors.

The next closest supercomputer, a BlueGene/P headed by Forschungszentrum Juelich, was a distant second with 167.3 TFLOPS. Rounding out the top five was an SGI Altix ICE 8200 based at the New Mexico Computing Applications Center (126.9 TFLOPS), an HP Cluster Platform 3000 BL460c run by India's Computational Research Laboratories (117.9 TFLOPS) and another HP Cluster Platform 3000 BL460c run by the Swedish government (102.8 TFLOPS).

IBM led all competitors on the TOP500 list with 232 systems (45 percent representation). Four of the IBM systems were in the Top 10, while 38 were in the Top 100.

Of the 500 supercomputer systems that made the TOP500, 354 used Intel processors. AMD processors pulled in with a second place showing of 78 systems, while IBM's Power processors were featured in 61 systems.

The BlueGene/L's significant gains in computing power over a short period of time lead many (including IBM) to speculate that the petaflop barrier will be crossed in 2008. “Petaflop computers promise exponential breakthroughs in science and engineering by providing predictive and highly detailed simulations,” said IBM in a press release. “Earthquake simulations, for example, could show building-by-building movements of entire regions along the San Andreas fault, improving future designs of earthquake-resistant structures.”

The massive amounts of computing power provided by these supercomputer systems are channeled by a diverse field of institutions and companies.

"This sort of looms over what they are doing," said Herb Schultz, marketing manager for IBM's Deep Computing division. "You have financial institutions running these huge financial modeling applications and you have oil and gas companies looking for resources in obscure places."

IBM expects that its new supercomputer systems to be introduced next year will find a home in a variety of fields including weather forecasting, energy exploration, and auto and aerospace engineering.

IBM is also putting the finishing touches on its “RoadRunner” supercomputer which will feature Power processor cores backed by Sony’s Cell Broadband Engine which has gained an enormous amount of fame in the past year. The petaflop machine will be delivered to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in the latter half of 2008.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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