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!

IBM Research Scales to 11,400 Cores for EDA

August 5, 2021

For many HPC users, their needs are not evenly distributed throughout a year: some might need few – if any – resources for months, then they might need a very large system for a week. For those kinds of users, large Read more…

Careers in Cybersecurity Featured at PEARC21

August 5, 2021

The PEARC21 (Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing) Student Program featured a Cybersecurity Careers Panel. Five experts shared lessons learned from more than 100 years of combined experience. While it Read more…

HPC Career Notes: August 2021 Edition

August 4, 2021

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it’s a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we’ Read more…

The Promise (and Necessity) of Runtime Systems like Charm++ in Exascale Power Management

August 4, 2021

Big heterogeneous computer systems, especially forthcoming exascale computers, are power hungry and difficult to program effectively. This is, of course, not an unrecognized problem. In a recent blog, Charmworks’ CEO S Read more…

Digging into the Atos-Nimbix Deal: Big US HPC and Global Cloud Aspirations. Look out HPE?

August 2, 2021

Behind Atos’s deal announced last week to acquire HPC-cloud specialist Nimbix are ramped-up plans to penetrate the U.S. HPC market and global expansion of its HPC cloud capabilities. Nimbix will become “an Atos HPC c Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Pushing pixels, not data with NICE DCV

NICE DCV, our high-performance, low-latency remote-display protocol, was originally created for scientists and engineers who ran large workloads on far-away supercomputers, but needed to visualize data without moving it. Read more…

Berkeley Lab Makes Strides in Autonomous Discovery to Tackle the Data Deluge

August 2, 2021

Data production is outpacing the human capacity to process said data. Whether a giant radio telescope, a new particle accelerator or lidar data from autonomous cars, the sheer scale of the data generated is increasingly Read more…

Careers in Cybersecurity Featured at PEARC21

August 5, 2021

The PEARC21 (Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing) Student Program featured a Cybersecurity Careers Panel. Five experts shared lessons learn Read more…

Digging into the Atos-Nimbix Deal: Big US HPC and Global Cloud Aspirations. Look out HPE?

August 2, 2021

Behind Atos’s deal announced last week to acquire HPC-cloud specialist Nimbix are ramped-up plans to penetrate the U.S. HPC market and global expansion of its Read more…

What’s After Exascale? The Internet of Workflows Says HPE’s Nicolas Dubé

July 29, 2021

With the race to exascale computing in its final leg, it’s natural to wonder what the Post Exascale Era will look like. Nicolas Dubé, VP and chief technologist for HPE’s HPC business unit, agrees and shared his vision at Supercomputing Frontiers Europe 2021 held last week. The next big thing, he told the virtual audience at SFE21, is something that will connect HPC and (broadly) all of IT – into what Dubé calls The Internet of Workflows. Read more…

How UK Scientists Developed Transformative, HPC-Powered Coronavirus Sequencing System

July 29, 2021

In November 2020, the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) won the HPCwire Readers’ Choice Award for Best HPC Collaboration for its CLIMB-COVID sequencing project. Launched in March 2020, CLIMB-COVID has now resulted in the sequencing of over 675,000 coronavirus genomes – an increasingly critical task as variants like Delta threaten the tenuous prospect of a return to normalcy in much of the world. Read more…

IBM and University of Tokyo Roll Out Quantum System One in Japan

July 27, 2021

IBM and the University of Tokyo today unveiled an IBM Quantum System One as part of the IBM-Japan quantum program announced in 2019. The system is the second IB Read more…

Intel Unveils New Node Names; Sapphire Rapids Is Now an ‘Intel 7’ CPU

July 27, 2021

What's a preeminent chip company to do when its process node technology lags the competition by (roughly) one generation, but outmoded naming conventions make it seem like it's two nodes behind? For Intel, the response was to change how it refers to its nodes with the aim of better reflecting its positioning within the leadership semiconductor manufacturing space. Intel revealed its new node nomenclature, and... Read more…

Will Approximation Drive Post-Moore’s Law HPC Gains?

July 26, 2021

“Hardware-based improvements are going to get more and more difficult,” said Neil Thompson, an innovation scholar at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). “I think that’s something that this crowd will probably, actually, be already familiar with.” Thompson, speaking... Read more…

With New Owner and New Roadmap, an Independent Omni-Path Is Staging a Comeback

July 23, 2021

Put on a shelf by Intel in 2019, Omni-Path faced a uncertain future, but under new custodian Cornelis Networks, OmniPath is looking to make a comeback as an independent high-performance interconnect solution. A "significant refresh" – called Omni-Path Express – is coming later this year according to the company. Cornelis Networks formed last September as a spinout of Intel's Omni-Path division. Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base cl Read more…

Berkeley Lab Debuts Perlmutter, World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer

May 27, 2021

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held virtually at Berkeley Lab's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) today marked the official launch of Perlmutter – aka NERSC-9 – the GPU-accelerated supercomputer built by HPE in partnership with Nvidia and AMD. Read more…

Ahead of ‘Dojo,’ Tesla Reveals Its Massive Precursor Supercomputer

June 22, 2021

In spring 2019, Tesla made cryptic reference to a project called Dojo, a “super-powerful training computer” for video data processing. Then, in summer 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla is developing a [neural network] training computer called Dojo to process truly vast amounts of video data. It’s a beast! … A truly useful exaflop at de facto FP32.” Read more…

Google Launches TPU v4 AI Chips

May 20, 2021

Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke for only one minute and 42 seconds about the company’s latest TPU v4 Tensor Processing Units during his keynote at the Google I Read more…

CentOS Replacement Rocky Linux Is Now in GA and Under Independent Control

June 21, 2021

The Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF) is announcing the general availability of Rocky Linux, release 8.4, designed as a drop-in replacement for the soon-to-be discontinued CentOS. The GA release is launching six-and-a-half months after Red Hat deprecated its support for the widely popular, free CentOS server operating system. The Rocky Linux development effort... Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

Iran Gains HPC Capabilities with Launch of ‘Simorgh’ Supercomputer

May 18, 2021

Iran is said to be developing domestic supercomputing technology to advance the processing of scientific, economic, political and military data, and to strengthen the nation’s position in the age of AI and big data. On Sunday, Iran unveiled the Simorgh supercomputer, which will deliver.... Read more…

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…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

AMD-Xilinx Deal Gains UK, EU Approvals — China’s Decision Still Pending

July 1, 2021

AMD’s planned acquisition of FPGA maker Xilinx is now in the hands of Chinese regulators after needed antitrust approvals for the $35 billion deal were receiv Read more…

GTC21: Nvidia Launches cuQuantum; Dips a Toe in Quantum Computing

April 13, 2021

Yesterday Nvidia officially dipped a toe into quantum computing with the launch of cuQuantum SDK, a development platform for simulating quantum circuits on GPU-accelerated systems. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized in his keynote, Nvidia doesn’t plan to build... Read more…

Microsoft to Provide World’s Most Powerful Weather & Climate Supercomputer for UK’s Met Office

April 22, 2021

More than 14 months ago, the UK government announced plans to invest £1.2 billion ($1.56 billion) into weather and climate supercomputing, including procuremen Read more…

Quantum Roundup: IBM, Rigetti, Phasecraft, Oxford QC, China, and More

July 13, 2021

IBM yesterday announced a proof for a quantum ML algorithm. A week ago, it unveiled a new topology for its quantum processors. Last Friday, the Technical Univer Read more…

Q&A with Jim Keller, CTO of Tenstorrent, and an HPCwire Person to Watch in 2021

April 22, 2021

As part of our HPCwire Person to Watch series, we are happy to present our interview with Jim Keller, president and chief technology officer of Tenstorrent. One of the top chip architects of our time, Keller has had an impactful career. Read more…

Frontier to Meet 20MW Exascale Power Target Set by DARPA in 2008

July 14, 2021

After more than a decade of planning, the United States’ first exascale computer, Frontier, is set to arrive at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) later this year. Crossing this “1,000x” horizon required overcoming four major challenges: power demand, reliability, extreme parallelism and data movement. Read more…

Senate Debate on Bill to Remake NSF – the Endless Frontier Act – Begins

May 18, 2021

The U.S. Senate today opened floor debate on the Endless Frontier Act which seeks to remake and expand the National Science Foundation by creating a technology Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire