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Top 500 Supercomputer Rankings Show IBM Surge

June 22, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO — IBM increased its dominance in the market for supercomputers used to solve the toughest research problems, claiming half of the world’s Top 500 supercomputers, while the share of Hewlett-Packard Co. fell sharply, according to a survey published on Wednesday.

HP fell to 26 percent, or 131 of the most powerful supercomputers ranked in the semi-annual Top 500 List. That’s down from 170, or 34 percent, just six months ago.

IBM scored broad gains, with 259 machines or 51.8 percent of the Top 500, up from 43 percent of the world’s most powerful supercomputers last November.

“IBM is on the cusp of something similar to the dominance it had in mainframes 40 years ago,” said analyst Stacey Quandt, an industry analyst with Quandt Analytics in Santa Clara, California. “There is a parallel to developments taking place in its dominance of supercomputers today,” she said.

For the first time since the Top 500 List (http:/www.top500.org/) was issued in 1993, all 500 computers listed could handle a teraflop, or a trillion calculations per second. No. 500 on the list can crunch 1.17 teraflops. No supercomputer on the 1997 Top 500 List would now qualify.

The rapid increase in computer firepower among the most powerful computers means that 201 of the 500 computers listed on the last Top500 list in November have fallen out of the rankings, largely explaining the dramatic market shifts.

IBM supercomputers rank No. 1 and No. 2 on the list and account for six of the top 10. IBM business systems — as opposed to more traditional models used by government or academic laboratory customers — make up 161 of the 500. IBM also dominates the low-end, with 193 systems running on low-cost Linux software and composed of hundreds or thousands of mass-market computer chips.

Silicon Graphics Inc. increased its share slightly to 24 of the Top 500 supercomputers, or 5 percent of the total, up from 20 machines six months ago. Dell Inc. had 21 supercomputers on the list, while Cray Inc. had 16.

HP and Japan Fall Back

Judging by the underlying components used to build the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the big winner is Intel Corp., whose low-cost, mass-produced chips are now used in 333 of the top 500 supercomputers, up from 287 only a year ago.

IBM’s Power processors run 77 systems, while HP chips power 36 and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s microprocessors control 25 of the machines, according to the Top 500 list. Many of IBM’s own machines run on Intel or AMD microprocessors.

As a measure of China’s growing technology prowess, the world’s most populous country now has 19 supercomputers on the Top 500 list, just behind Japan with 23 machines. China entered the Top 500 list only three years ago with its first machine.

Japan’s NEC Corp., which in 2002 built the world’s fastest supercomputer — the Earth Simulator Center — has been overtaken during the past year by IBM, which now holds three of the top 5 spots in the Top 500, including No. 1 and No. 2. The older NEC machine has fallen to No. 4 behind one from SGI.

Five of the top 10 machines are based on IBM’s high-end Blue Gene design that run its Power line of chips.

IBM’s Blue Gene/L, currently the world’s fastest computer, is capable of handling 136.8 trillion calculations per second. It is located at Lawrence Livermore Labs in California and is designed to run nuclear weapon test simulations by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Agency.

The system, which is still under construction, will double again in size by the time it is completed, allowing it to keep its lead for sometime to come. In May, Japan’s government said it was aiming to build a machine capable of handling one quadrillion calculations a second by 2010 in order to regain the top spot.

The Top 500 list is compiled by a team of three academic researchers in Germany and the United States. Its bi-annual publication on Wednesday coincided with the International Supercomputer Conference under way in Heidelberg this week.

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