Supercomputers: three skills

Saturday 20th November 2010
Acceleration: Courtesy: http://laurentamar.blogspot.com/2008/04/acceleration.html

Accelerator-based supercomputers hold eight of the top 10 spots on The Green500 List. These supercomputers use dedicated hardware to perform computations faster than a typical central processing unit (CPU). It appears that supercomputing has three hoops to jump through, speed, energy and fit for purpose (for which no-one has yet managed to devise a ranking system).

“One might argue that this year’s Green500 marks The Year of the Accelerator,” said Green500 co-founder, Wu Feng, an associate professor with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering computer science and electrical and computer engineering departments.

Wu Feng is the co-founder of the Green500 List that lists the energy efficiency of supercomputers that is released in June and in November yearly.

Measuring energy efficiency, Feng uses Megaflops/W, or millions of floating-point operations per second Megaflops divided by Watts (Mf/W).

The Green500 ranks the energy efficiency of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers since its debut in 2007, serving as a complement to the well-known supercomputer industry marker TOP500.

Topping the Green500 is the IBM BlueGene/Q prototype supercomputer, the third in a series of energy-efficient Blue Gene supercomputers, following Blue Gene/L and Blue Gene/P.

In a 2004 Top500 ranking, Blue Gene/L bested the powerful Japanese Earth Simulator, which itself in 2002 created a so-called “Computenik” event, a pun on sputnik, by shattering the US’ then unchallenged hold on supercomputer business.

Despite not making No. 1, overall energy efficiency of accelerator supercomputers does dominate the overall Green500. Tokyo Institute of Technology-based supercomputer TSUBAME 2.0 holds the second spot on the latest Green500.

Accelerators have been making worldwide waves and headlines. At No 11 on the Green500 is China’s Tianhe-1A supercomputer, estimated the world’s fastest supercomputer by the November Top500 list. Built at the National University of Defense Technology research lab in Tianjin, China, Tianhe boats 1.4 times the computing power of the United States’ then-top contender.

“What is scary about this is that the US dominance in high performance computing is at risk,” Feng told “New York Times” in October on Tianhe’s debut and its No. 1 ranking on the Top500.  “One could argue that this hits the foundation of our economic future.”

“Accelerator-based supercomputers on the Green500 List produce an average efficiency of 573Mf/W, whereas the other measured supercomputers on the list produce only average efficiency of 206Mf/W,” Feng said. “That makes accelerator based supercomputers on the Green500 nearly 3x more energy efficient than their non-accelerated counterparts.”

Accelerator-based supercomputers are largely two flavours:  commodity graphics processing unit (GPU) or based on custom PowerXCell 8i processor from IBM, an enhancement of the Cell Broadband Engine developed for game console PlayStation 3, including a network of programmable field programmable gate arrays or FPGAs.
 

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