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November 19, 2013

Top 500 Interconnect History Highlights Ethernet Trends

Nicole Hemsoth

As we related earlier when the news of the Top 500 rankings broke this morning, this November’s SC list was a rather static one in terms of the top ten systems. While this isn’t entirely unexpected since it was not likely anyone would usurp China’s dominance and since there were no big processor movements in the last year that would warrant dramatic performance boosts, there are some noteworthy trends that lie hidden in the numbers.

The good news about a quieter list is that it grants us some space to look at the Top 500 as a whole versus focusing on dramatic momentum at the top. In the wake of the list, it’s useful to view broader trends by drilling down on specifics that highlight some overall movements.

There has been a great deal of talk this week about how the lack of significant processor announcements (or those that might have otherwise shipped earlier in the year) has had an effect on the still waters nature of this November’s Top 500. By the time next year rolls around, one can guess with some certainty, based on previous trends, that as 10Gbe is more prevalent as part of the vendor/server ecosystem, the once-strong era of Gigabit Ethernet will come to a close, ushering a new competitive environment for interconnects.

InterconnectEvolutionOn the interconnect front there are not a lot of surprises, although it is rather interesting to watch the slow death of Gigabit Ethernet over time—not to mention the falling away of a few other interconnect types, the rise of 10GbE and of course, the steady increase in InfiniBand connected systems.

Gigabit Ethernet enjoyed a rather long reign with over 40% for its glory years, but as the Opteron’s glory days wound down with the introduction of Nehelem in 2009, a sea change occured, flooding the list with a new crop of Infiniband connected systems.

Further, even back in 2010, 10GbE was still expensive, but gaining traction (seen if you look at 2012 lists as well) but it really exploded following the Sandy Bridge launch). The really interesting thing to note here is the big difference between 2010 and 2013–take a look at the blue; GbE and Infiniband do a complete flip flop of dominance, with GbE slipping down to only 27% of systems on this year’s list.

One has to wonder if next November’s list will see a major drop-off in the number of systems outfitted with Gigabit Ethernet once 10GbE ships as part of the server. It’s quite possible that this year will be the last time Gigabit Ethernet grabs a serious share of Top 500 share color. When the last of the GbE systems finally gasp their last on the list? Perhaps sooner than we think following the next refresh round…

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