Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

By Tiffany Trader

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released from SC17 in Denver, Colorado, this morning and once again China is in the spotlight, having taken what is on the surface at least a definitive lead in multiple dimensions. China now claims the most systems, biggest flops share and the number one machine for 10 consecutive lists. It’s a coup-level achievement to pull off in five years, disrupting 20 years of US dominance on the Top500, but reading deeper into the Top500 tea leaves reveals a more nuanced analysis that has as much to do with China’s benchmarking chops as it does its supercomputing flops.

PEZY-SC2 chip at ISC 2017 –click to enlarge

Before we thread that needle, let’s take a moment to review the movement at the top of the list. There are no new list entrants in the top ten and no change in the top three, but the upgraded ZettaScaler-2.2 “Gyoukou” stuck its landing for a fourth place ranking. Vaulting 65 spots, the supersized Gyoukou combines Xeons and PEZY-SC2 accelerators to achieve 19.14 petaflops, up from 1.68 petaflops on the previous list. The Top500 authors point out that the system’s 19,860,000 cores represent the highest level of concurrency ever recorded on the Top500 rankings.

Gyoukou also had the honor of being the fifth greenest supercomputer. Fellow ZettaScaler systems Shoubu system B, Suiren2 and Sakura, placed first, second and third respectively (see perf-per-watt numbers below). Nvidia’s DGX SaturnV Volta system, installed at Nvidia headquarters in San Jose, Calif., was the fourth greenest supercomputer.

Nov. 2017 Green500 top five — click to enlarge
Nov. 2017 Top500 top 10

Another upgraded machine, Trinity, moved up three positions to seventh place thanks to a recent infusion of Intel Knights Landing Xeon Phi processors that raised its Linpack score from 8.10 petaflops to 14.14 petaflops. Trinity is a Cray XC40 supercomputer operated by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

Sunway TaihuLight datacenter (Wuxi, China)

China still has a firm grip on the top of the list with 93-petaflops Sunway TaihuLight and 33.86-petaflops Tianhe-2, the number one and and two systems respectively, which together provide the new list with 15 percent of its flops. Piz Daint, the Cray XC50 system installed at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) remains the third fastest system with 19.6 petaflops. With Gyoukou in fourth position, the fastest US system, Titan, slips another notch to fifth place, leaving the United States without a claim to any of the top four rankings. Benchmarked at 17.59 petaflops, the five-year-old Cray XK7 system installed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, captured the top spot for one list iteration before being knocked off its perch in June 2013 by China’s Tianhe-2. This is the first time in the list’s 24-year history that the US has not held at least a number four ranking.

Although China has enjoyed number one bragging rights for nearly four years, this is the first list that it also dominates by both system number and aggregate performance share as well. China has the most installed systems: 202 compared to 159 on the last list, while US is in second place with 144 down from 169 six month ago (Japan ranks third place with 35, followed by Germany with 20, France with 18, and the UK with 15.). Aggregate performance is similar: China holds 35.3 percent of list flops, and the US is second with 29.8 percent (then Japan with 10.8 percent, Germany with 4.5 percent, UK with 3.8 percent and France with 3.6 percent).

Based on these metrics, undoubtedly some publications will proclaim China’s supercomputing supremacy, but that would be premature. When China expanded its Top500 toehold by a factor of three at SC15, Intersect360 Research CEO Addison Snell remarked that it wasn’t so much that China discovered supercomputing as it discovered the Top500 list. This observation continues to hold water.

An examination of the new systems China is adding to the list indicates concerted efforts by Chinese vendors Inspur, Lenovo, Sugon and more recently Huawei to benchmark loosely coupled Web/cloud systems that strain the definition of HPC. To wit, 68 out of the 96 systems that China introduced onto the latest list utilize 10G networking and none are deployed at research sites. The benchmarking of Internet and telecom systems for Top500 glory is not new. You can see similar fingerprints on the list (current and historical) from HPE and IBM, but China has doubled down. For comparison’s sake, the US put 19 new systems on the list and eight of those rely on 10G networking.

Top500 development over time–countries by performance share. US is red; China is dark blue. Click to enlarge.

Not only has the Linpacking of non-HPC systems inflated China’s list presence, it’s changed the networking demographics as the number of Ethernet-based machines climbs steadily. As the Top500 authors note, Gigabit Ethernet now connects 228 systems with 204 systems using 10G interfaces. InfiniBand technology is now found on 163 systems, down from 178 systems six months ago, and is the second most-used internal system interconnect technology.

Snell provided additional perspective: “What we’re seeing is a concerted effort to list systems in China, particularly from China-based system vendors. The submission rules allow for what is essentially benchmarking by proxy. If Linpack is run and verified on one system, the result can be assumed for other systems of the same (or greater) configuration, so it’s possible to put together concerted efforts to list more systems, whether out of a desire to show apparent market share, or simply for national pride.”

Discussions of list purity and benchmarking by proxy aside, the High Performance Linpack or any one-dimensional metric has limited usefulness across today’s broad mix of HPC applications. This truth, well understood in HPC circles, is not always appreciated outside the community or among government stakeholders who want “something to show” for public investment.

“Actual system effectiveness is getting more difficult to compare, as the industry swings back toward specialized hardware,” Snell commented. “Just because one architecture outperforms another on one benchmark doesn’t make it the best choice for all workloads. This is particularly challenging for mixed-workload research environments trying to serve multiple domains. 88 percent of all HPC users say they will need to support multiple architectures for the next few years, running applications on the most appropriate systems for their requirements.”

Chip technology – click to expand (Source: Top500)

There has been stagnation on the list for several iterations and turnover is historically low. Neither Summit or Sierra (the US CORAL machines, projected to achieve 150-200 petaflops) nor the upgraded Tianhe-2A (projected 94.97 petaflops peak) made the cut for the 50th list as had been speculated. While HPC is seeing a time of increased architectural diversity at the system and processor level, the current list is less diverse by some measures. To wit, of the 136 new systems on the list, Intel is foundational to all of them (36 of these utilize accelerators*). So no new Power, no new AMD (it’s still early for EPYC) and nothing from ARM yet. In total 471 systems, or 94.2 percent, are now using Intel processors, up a notch from 92.8 percent six months ago. The share of IBM Power processors is at 14 systems, down from 21 systems in June. There are five AMD-based systems remaining on the list, down from seven one year ago.

Nvidia’s New SaturnV Volta system. Click to enlarge.

In the US, IBM Power9 systems Summit and Sierra are on track for 2018 installation at Oak Ridge and Livermore labs (respectively), and multiple other exascale-focused systems are in play in China, Europe and Japan, showcasing a new wave of architectural diversity. We expect there will be more exciting supercomputing trends to report on from ISC 2017 in Frankfurt.

*Breakdown of the 36 new accelerated systems: 29 have P100s (one with NVLink, an HPE SGI system at number 292 (Japan)), one internal Nvidia V100 Volta system (#149, SaturnV Volta); one K80-based system (#267, Lenovo); two Sugon-built P40 systems (#161, #300), and three PEZY systems (#260, #277, #308). Further, out of the 36, only the internal Nvidia machine is US-based. 30 are Chinese (by Lenovo, Inspur, Sugon); the remaining five are Japanese (by NTT, HPE, PEZY).

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!

D-Wave Delivers 5000-qubit System; Targets Quantum Advantage

September 29, 2020

D-Wave today launched its newest and largest quantum annealing computer, a 5000-qubit goliath named Advantage that features 15-way qubit interconnectivity. It also introduced the D-Wave Launch program intended to jump st Read more…

By John Russell

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: AMD, Remdesivir, Fab Spending & More

September 29, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global QC Market Projected to Grow to More Than $800 million by 2024

September 28, 2020

The Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C) and Hyperion Research are projecting that the global quantum computing (QC) market - worth an estimated $320 million in 2020 - will grow at an anticipated 27% CAGR betw Read more…

By Staff Reports

DoE’s ASCAC Backs AI for Science Program that Emulates the Exascale Initiative

September 28, 2020

Roughly a year after beginning formal efforts to explore an AI for Science initiative the Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee last week accepted a subcommittee report calling for a t Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer Research Aims to Supercharge COVID-19 Antiviral Remdesivir

September 25, 2020

Remdesivir is one of a handful of therapeutic antiviral drugs that have been proven to improve outcomes for COVID-19 patients, and as such, is a crucial weapon in the fight against the pandemic – especially in the abse Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

The Water Institute of the Gulf runs compute-heavy storm surge and wave simulations on AWS

The Water Institute of the Gulf (Water Institute) runs its storm surge and wave analysis models on Amazon Web Services (AWS)—a task that sometimes requires large bursts of compute power. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Berlin Institute of Health: Putting HPC to Work for the World

Researchers from the Center for Digital Health at the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) are using science to understand the pathophysiology of COVID-19, which can help to inform the development of targeted treatments. Read more…

NOAA Announces Major Upgrade to Ensemble Forecast Model, Extends Range to 35 Days

September 23, 2020

A bit over a year ago, the United States’ Global Forecast System (GFS) received a major upgrade: a new dynamical core – its first in 40 years – called the finite-volume cubed-sphere, or FV3. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is bringing the FV3 dynamical core to... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

D-Wave Delivers 5000-qubit System; Targets Quantum Advantage

September 29, 2020

D-Wave today launched its newest and largest quantum annealing computer, a 5000-qubit goliath named Advantage that features 15-way qubit interconnectivity. It a Read more…

By John Russell

DoE’s ASCAC Backs AI for Science Program that Emulates the Exascale Initiative

September 28, 2020

Roughly a year after beginning formal efforts to explore an AI for Science initiative the Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Commit Read more…

By John Russell

NOAA Announces Major Upgrade to Ensemble Forecast Model, Extends Range to 35 Days

September 23, 2020

A bit over a year ago, the United States’ Global Forecast System (GFS) received a major upgrade: a new dynamical core – its first in 40 years – called the finite-volume cubed-sphere, or FV3. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is bringing the FV3 dynamical core to... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Arm Targets HPC with New Neoverse Platforms

September 22, 2020

UK-based semiconductor design company Arm today teased details of its Neoverse roadmap, introducing V1 (codenamed Zeus) and N2 (codenamed Perseus), Arm’s second generation N-series platform. The chip IP vendor said the new platforms will deliver 50 percent and 40 percent more... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Oracle Cloud Deepens HPC Embrace with Launch of A100 Instances, Plans for Arm, More 

September 22, 2020

Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) continued its steady ramp-up of HPC capabilities today with a flurry of announcements. Topping the list is general availabilit Read more…

By John Russell

European Commission Declares €8 Billion Investment in Supercomputing

September 18, 2020

Just under two years ago, the European Commission formalized the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU): a concerted HPC effort (comprising 32 participating states at c Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Google Hires Longtime Intel Exec Bill Magro to Lead HPC Strategy

September 18, 2020

In a sign of the times, another prominent HPCer has made a move to a hyperscaler. Longtime Intel executive Bill Magro joined Google as chief technologist for hi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Future of Fintech on Display at HPC + AI Wall Street

September 17, 2020

Those who tuned in for Tuesday's HPC + AI Wall Street event got a peak at the future of fintech and lively discussion of topics like blockchain, AI for risk man Read more…

By Alex Woodie, Tiffany Trader and Todd R. Weiss

Supercomputer-Powered Research Uncovers Signs of ‘Bradykinin Storm’ That May Explain COVID-19 Symptoms

July 28, 2020

Doctors and medical researchers have struggled to pinpoint – let alone explain – the deluge of symptoms induced by COVID-19 infections in patients, and what Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia Said to Be Close on Arm Deal

August 3, 2020

GPU leader Nvidia Corp. is in talks to buy U.K. chip designer Arm from parent company Softbank, according to several reports over the weekend. If consummated Read more…

By George Leopold

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel’s 7nm Slip Raises Questions About Ponte Vecchio GPU, Aurora Supercomputer

July 30, 2020

During its second-quarter earnings call, Intel announced a one-year delay of its 7nm process technology, which it says it will create an approximate six-month shift for its CPU product timing relative to prior expectations. The primary issue is a defect mode in the 7nm process that resulted in yield degradation... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Hires Longtime Intel Exec Bill Magro to Lead HPC Strategy

September 18, 2020

In a sign of the times, another prominent HPCer has made a move to a hyperscaler. Longtime Intel executive Bill Magro joined Google as chief technologist for hi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Keeps Cray Brand Promise, Reveals HPE Cray Supercomputing Line

August 4, 2020

The HPC community, ever-affectionate toward Cray and its eponymous founder, can breathe a (virtual) sigh of relief. The Cray brand will live on, encompassing th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

European Commission Declares €8 Billion Investment in Supercomputing

September 18, 2020

Just under two years ago, the European Commission formalized the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU): a concerted HPC effort (comprising 32 participating states at c Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Powers Fugaku’s Storage, Scores IO500 Win

August 28, 2020

In June, RIKEN shook the supercomputing world with its Arm-based, Fujitsu-built juggernaut: Fugaku. The system, which weighs in at 415.5 Linpack petaflops, topp Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DOD Orders Two AI-Focused Supercomputers from Liqid

August 24, 2020

The U.S. Department of Defense is making a big investment in data analytics and AI computing with the procurement of two HPC systems that will provide the High Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Microsoft Azure Adds A100 GPU Instances for ‘Supercomputer-Class AI’ in the Cloud

August 19, 2020

Microsoft Azure continues to infuse its cloud platform with HPC- and AI-directed technologies. Today the cloud services purveyor announced a new virtual machine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan’s Fugaku Tops Global Supercomputing Rankings

June 22, 2020

A new Top500 champ was unveiled today. Supercomputer Fugaku, the pride of Japan and the namesake of Mount Fuji, vaulted to the top of the 55th edition of the To Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Joliot-Curie Supercomputer Used to Build First Full, High-Fidelity Aircraft Engine Simulation

July 14, 2020

When industrial designers plan the design of a new element of a vehicle’s propulsion or exterior, they typically use fluid dynamics to optimize airflow and in Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Intel Speeds NAMD by 1.8x: Saves Xeon Processor Users Millions of Compute Hours

August 12, 2020

Potentially saving datacenters millions of CPU node hours, Intel and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) have collaborated to develop AVX-512 optimizations for the NAMD scalable molecular dynamics code. These optimizations will be incorporated into release 2.15 with patches available for earlier versions. Read more…

By Rob Farber

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This