TOP500 Founder Erich Strohmaier on the List’s Evolution

By Tiffany Trader

October 3, 2013

The TOP500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers first debuted more than two decades ago, in June 1993, the brainchild of Berkeley Lab scientist Erich Strohmaier and Professor Hans Meuer. The much-celebrated list is compiled using the Linpack benchmark, which was developed by Jack Dongarra. Although the continued relevance of the Linpack benchmark as a sole measure of big iron performance has been called into question, the impact of this twice-yearly list as a widely recognized metric and a valuable historical record cannot be denied.

Recently, Dr. Strohmaier, who heads up the Future Technologies Group at Berkeley Lab, shared some of his insight on the evolution of the TOP500 and the future of HPC in a short Q&A for the US Department of Energy website.

At Berkeley, Professor Strohmaier’s team explores the design and development of hardware and software systems that enable application scientists to extract the greatest performance gains. The TOP500 list cofounder got his start on the application side as well, studying physics, which provided a natural segue to computers. Strohmaier’s PhD work involved using numerical methods in particle physics. The compute-intensive applications could only be done on the largest systems of the day, so the transition to HPC was “a natural progression,” according to the scientist.

The TOP500 list was developed to provide the community with a simple but meaningful point of reference. In the 1980s the vector machines were clearly delineated as supercomputers. You could survey the upper bounds of computing with a quick count of such systems. But in the 90s the line between “regular computers” and supercomputers (aka vector computers at the time) began to blur, notes Strohmaier. Furthermore, the appearance of parallel processor supercomputers meant that the “old method” of counting vector computers was no longer valid.

That was the context for the list, but the need runs deeper. “You really can’t discuss or improve what you can’t measure,” remarks Strohmaier. “You need a definition for performance if you want to talk about supercomputing and how it’s improving. Benchmark results are essential here as they provide a practical way to define and measure performance.”

Strohmaier’s next sentiments might be interpreted as a response to allegations that the list has outgrown its usefulness, at least as a sole measure of performance. Some academic leaders, like Blue Waters Project Director Bill Kramer are calling for real-world sustained-performance applications to serve as benchmarks.

Strohmaier acknowledges that “there is no single metric or benchmark that can truly represent the huge variety of programs that we use.”

“For different purposes, different users and different situations, you need to define different benchmarks to represent progress,” he adds.

The father of the Linpack benchmark, Jack Dongarra, holds a similar perspective.

“The Linpack benchmark is an incredibly successful metric for the high-performance computing community,” said Dongarra. “The trends it exposes, the focused optimization efforts it inspires, and the publicity it brings to our community are very important. Yet the relevance of the Linpack as a proxy for real application performance has become very low, creating a need for an alternative.”

The “need for an alternative” has prompted Dongarra, a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee, and colleague Michael Heroux from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to develop a new benchmark. It is expected to debut this November in tandem with SC13.

The Strohmaier interview covers other topics as well. The Berkeley scientist discusses some of the historical trends embedded in two decade’s worth of TOP500 data, the main roadblocks to achieving exaflop-class supercomputers, as well as the importance of hitting this next 1,000X goal.

For students who are considering a career in advanced computing, Strohmaier extolls the benefits of a strong foundation. “You need to learn about the science discipline, but you also need to understand the computer science,” he says. “And you will need to keep learning, changing and adapting to the rapidly changing hardware and software environments of HPC.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Cray+Azure: Can Cloud Propel Supercomputing?

October 23, 2017

Cray and Microsoft today announced they will offer dedicated Cray supercomputers (the XC and CS-Storm lines) inside the Azure platform allowing customers to run their HPC and AI applications alongside their other cloud w Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

2017 Gordon Bell Prize Finalists Named

October 23, 2017

The three finalists for this year’s Gordon Bell Prize in High Performance Computing have been announced. They include two papers on projects run on China’s Sunway TaihuLight system and a third paper on 3D image recon Read more…

By John Russell

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together about 30 participants from industry, government and academia t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Transforming Genomic Analytics with HPC-Accelerated Insights

Advancements in the field of genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of human biology, rapidly accelerating the discovery and treatment of genetic diseases, and dramatically improving human health. Read more…

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray+Azure: Can Cloud Propel Supercomputing?

October 23, 2017

Cray and Microsoft today announced they will offer dedicated Cray supercomputers (the XC and CS-Storm lines) inside the Azure platform allowing customers to run Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Tapped to Build 37-Petaflops ABCI System for AIST

October 10, 2017

Fujitsu announced today it will build the long-planned AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) which is set to become the fastest supercomputer system in Japan Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This