The 500 most powerful supercomputers use Linux

Superordenadores IBM Blue

The world’s most powerful supercomputers use Linux. Everyone has heard something about supercomputers. A supercomputer is a device whose computing capabilities are by far higher than the capabilities of common computers. Nowadays, the most powerful supercomputer exceeds the 415 Petaflops (PFlops); a performance there’s no way a personal device can achieve.

Since the end of 2009, Linux has completely dominated the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers list. As an example, the current most powerful supercomputer, Supercomputer Fugaku, uses Linux.

Linux: more than 20 years in the supercomputing world

The TOP500 list is updated twice a year (in June and November) since 1993. Linux appeared for the first time in this list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers in June 1998

Which was the first supercomputer using Linux to be included in the list? The Avalon Cluster from the United States, in the 314th position; which had 140 Alpha EV56 processors. Back then, commercial versions of Unix such as IRIX, UNICOS, AIX or Solaris dominated the list. Besides, at that point, Windows and MacOS were already focused on end user devices.

However, from that year onwards, the evolution of Linux was outstanding. Throughout the years, Linux’ growth has been unstoppable; specially between November 2002 and November 2009. During that period of 7 years, Linux went from being used in 71 supercomputers to being used in 448 supercomputers.

Currently, Linux is the clear leader in supercomputing. For Linux to lose the leadership, a big hardware revolution should take place. However, as time goes by, we will see if other alternatives emerge to challenge Linux’s leadership.

Why is Linux perfect for supercomputers?

There are many reasons why most supercomputers have chosen Linux operating systems. Let’s see some of the main reasons why Linux is the leader in supercomputing:

  • Open operating system. Since it is an open source system, it is 100% customizable. This enables the free modification of any part of the code; either for improving performance or for solving any security problem.
  • Lower consumption of resources. As it can be customized, there is the possibility to specify only vital applications are executed in order to improve performance. This can’t be done with other operating systems, which doesn’t allow specific configurations.
  • Modular structure. This is one of the most important features of Linux. As it is completely open, new modules can be added without affecting the rest of the operating system. Besides, resources can be optimized better.
  • Ability to adapt. Its ability to adapt to all kinds of workloads is a very important feature as well. This makes measuring the supercomputer efficiency, consumption and performance easier.
  • Costs. As it is completely free, there is no need to pay for a license to use it. So, the necessary investment is related to the time invested in modifying the OS for the project.

The world’s 10 most powerful supercomputers

These are the ten most powerful supercomputers in the world, according to the TOP500 list (June 2020 update).

  1. Supercomputer Fugaku (Japan)
  2. Summit (United States)
  3. Sierra (United States)
  4. Sunway TaihuLight (China)
  5. Tianhe-2A (China)
  6. HPC5 (Italy)
  7. Selene (United States)
  8. Frontera (United States)
  9. Marconi-100 (Italy)
  10. Piz Daint (Switzerland)

Evolution of the Top 3 supercomputers since 2010

The following table shows the supercomputers that have been in the first, second and third position from 2010 to 2020, according to the TOP500 list.

 Top 1Top 2Top 3
June 2010Jaguar (United States)Nebulae (China)Roadrunner (United States)
November 2010Tianhe-1A (China)Jaguar (United States)Nebulae (China)
June/November 2011K computer (Japan)Tianhe-1A (China)Jaguar (United States)
June 2012Sequoia (United States)K computer (Japan)Mira (United States)
November 2012Titan (United States)Sequoia (United States)K computer (Japan)
June/November 2013Tianhe-2A (China)Titan (United States)Sequoia (United States)
June 2014Tianhe-2A (China)Titan (United States)Sequoia (United States)
June/November 2015Tianhe-2A (China)Titan (United States)Sequoia (United States)
June/November 2016Sunway TaihuLight (China)Tianhe-2A (China)Titan (United States)
June/November 2017Sunway TaihuLight (China)Tianhe-2A (China)Piz Daint (Switzerland)
June 2018Summit (United States)Sunway TaihuLight (China)Sierra (United States)
November 2018Summit (United States)Sierra (United States)Sunway TaihuLight (China)
June/November 2019Summit (United States)Sierra (United States)Sunway TaihuLight (China)
June 2020Supercomputer Fugaku (Japan)Summit (United States)Sierra (United States)

List of supercomputers which have ever been in the first position

In the following section, we have collected the supercomputers that have been number 1 in the TOP500 list since 1993.

  • CM-5/1024 (United States)
  • Numerical Wind Tunnel (Japan)
  • XP/S140 (United States)
  • SR2201/1024 (Japan)
  • CP-PACS/2048 (Japan)
  • ASCI Red (United States)
  • ASCI White, SP Power3 375 MHz (United States)
  • Earth-Simulator (Japan)
  • BlueGene/L beta-System (United States)
  • BlueGene/L – eServer Blue Gene Solution (United States)
  • Roadrunner (United States)
  • Jaguar (United States)
  • Tianhe-1A (China)
  • K computer (Japan)
  • Sequoia (United States)
  • Titan (United States)
  • Tianhe-2A (China)
  • Sunway TaihuLight (China)
  • Summit (United States)
  • Supercomputer Fugaku (Japan)

Supercomputers by continent

This is the distribution of the most powerful supercomputers in the TOP500 list by continent, as of June 2020:

  • Asia: 272 supercomputers.
  • North America: 126 supercomputers.
  • Europe: 96 supercomputers.
  • South America: 4 supercomputers.
  • Oceania: 2 supercomputers.
  • Africa: N/A.

China: the leader in number of supercomputers

China has been the leader in number of supercomputers since November 2017. As of June 2020, China has supercomputers are among the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers. It is followed by the United States, with 113 supercomputers, and Japan, with 29 supercomputers.

Nevertheless, regarding performance, the United States is the leader with a Rmax of 621,655,590 Gigaflops (GFlops). Rmax is the acronym for “Maximal LINPACK performance achieved”. It is followed by China, with a Rmax of 565,553,102 GFlops, and Japan, with a Rmax of 527,607,512 GFlops.

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