June 22, 2004

Linux systems now comprise more than half of world's fastest 500 computers

Author: Jay Lyman

Go back more than a few years ago and Linux had zero representation among
the world's fastest supercomputers, which relied on traditional, monolithic
mainframe machines running Unix or other operating systems. In
the last few years, however, the open source operating system has begun
dominating the list, thanks to clustering and Intel hardware in the
supercomputing market.

List co-compiler and one of the original editors of the 12-year-old Top 500 Fastest List Erich Strohmaier told
NewsForge that although there were no Linux systems when the list started
and only a few at the most five years ago, Linux is now clustering its way
to the top.

"The representation of Linux in the Top 500 list has increased quite a
bit in the last few years," Strohmaier said. "The number of cluster systems
has increased strongly in the last three to four years from a few to more
than half the list," he added, referring to 280 cluster systems on the latest list, released Monday.

Japan's Earth Simulator Center remains the world's fastest supercomputer, according to the Top 500 list. The United States owns the second- through fifth-fastest computers in the world.

Strohmaier said that although list creators, who use the Linpack benchmark to measure
performance of the world's biggest and baddest machines, do not break down
systems by operating system, a look at the number of clusters is a good
gauge of the number of Linux systems.

"Most run on one flavor of Linux or another," Strohmaier said. "We don't
have precise numbers, but almost every one is running Linux."

Strohmaier also said that IBM, which took the top vendor crown from HP in
the latest round, held three of the top five positions with high performance
cluster systems, which are used in academic, government, and other
supercomputing research.

Given its gains already, other operating system advancements, and the
fact that some high-performance jobs are better suited to more traditional
supercomputers, Strohmaier said the clustering cavalcade will eventually
slow down.

Based on the last list of the Top 500 from the end of last year, industry
analyst and Harvard Research Group vice president of Linux strategy Bill
Claybrook estimated there were about 170 Linux systems in the Top 500.

As has been the case in industry, Linux is filling the slots previously
occupied by Unix systems, such as the SuperDome systems, which have dropped
off as Linux has risen, according to Claybrook.

In addition to cluster systems from IBM, HP, Dell, and other
manufacturers, Linux has also been used in other systems by SGI and others
using Itanium 2 or Xeon processors from Intel, Claybrook said.

The analyst tied the Linux gains on the Top 500 to those of Intel, which
provided processing power for 119 systems a year ago, 189 systems six
months ago, and a total of 287 systems in the latest list.

"That tells you right there that Linux is dominating," Claybrook said,
referring to Itanium 2 and Xeon processors. "Most of those Intel machines are
running Linux."

Of Intel's 287 systems on the list, 243 are clusters of some kind and almost
all, if not all of them, are running Linux, Claybrook estimated.

"It's growing rapidly, and I think it's going to continue," Claybrook said,
referring to the price/performance advantage of the open source operating
system. "Eventually, I think you'll find Linux is going to replace
everything on the Top 500 list."


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