IBM hopes to knock the Earth Simulator, currently the world's fastest supercomputer, from its top spot by next year.
Built by NEC and installed at the Earth Simulator Center in Yokohama, Japan, in 2002, the Earth Simulator is benchmarked at 35.86 teraflops (trillions of calculations per second).
The number two spot in the TOP500 list of supercomputers is held by Thunder, an Intel Itanium2-based cluster system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.
IBM hopes to unseat the Earth Simulator with its Blue Gene 65,536 node supercomputer. The final system, which will be installed at LLNL, is expected to replace the Earth Simulator by June 2005, perhaps even by the end of 2004.
IBM's two Blue Gene/L prototypes, with 8192 and 4096 processors respectively, have come in at number four and eight in the TOP500 list. They use low-power PowerPC chips and a tuned Linux kernel for the operating system.
"We're trying to build a petaflop [Pflop] system," Ian Green, IBM's EMEA deep computing manager, told vnunet.com. A Pflop is a quadrillion floating point operations per second.
"It will reach over a one-third of a Pflop during the coming year, so we expect it to go past Earth Simulator in size."
Green said the modest 700MHz speed of the processors meant much lower power requirements and heat output and thus much greater processor density than faster chip systems.
The biggest challenge was making sure applications deployed using standard Red Hat or SuSE Linux were optimised for running in a 65,536 node system.
IBM dominates the TOP500 list with 224 systems, accounting for 407Tflops - over 50 per cent of the total processing power. Hewlett Packard, Big Blue's nearest rival, holds a 19 per cent share.
The top UK and European system is the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which uses a 2112 processor IBM pSeries system, at number six.
Number 10 is the first Chinese system ever to enter the top 10 of supercomputers. Assembled by a Chinese intergrator, Dawning, the computer is based on AMD's Opteron chip and Los Angeles-based Myricom's Myrinet interconnect network.
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