Supercomputer Time!

June 18, 2019

DarkCyber noted “Top 500: China Has 219 of the World’s Fastest Supercomputers.” The list contains one interesting factoid:

Lenovo was the top vendor both by the number of systems and combined petaflops. Its machines achieved upwards of 302 petaflops, to be exact, followed by IBM’s with 207 petaflops.

A petaflop is the number of floating point operations per second a computer can deliver. A floating point operation is, according to the ever reliable Wikipedia:

arithmetic using formulaic representation of real numbers as an approximation so as to support a trade-off between range and precision. For this reason, floating-point computation is often found in systems which include very small and very large real numbers, which require fast processing times. A number is, in general, represented approximately to a fixed number of significant digits (the significand) and scaled using an exponent in some fixed base; the base for the scaling is normally two, ten, or sixteen.

Just for fun, I was thinking about defining each of the assorted words and phrases, but then this blog post would be very big endian.

The killer fact, however, is that China has 219 of these puppies. Here’s the passage which garnered a yellow circle from my marker:

China surpassed the U.S. by total number of ranked supercomputers for the first time in Top500 rankings two years ago, 202 to 143. That trend accelerated in the intervening year; according to the Top500 fall 2018 report, the number of ranked U.S. supercomputers fell to 108 as China’s total climbed to 229.

DarkCyber thinks this is an important message. In fact, it seems more significant than IBM’s announcement, reported in “We’ve Made World’s Most Powerful Commercial Supercomputer.” The implication is that the faster computers are not commercial, right? The enthusiastic recyclers of IBM’s marketing information reported as “real” news:

The IBM-built Pangea III supercomputer has come online for French energy giant Total, bringing 31.7 petaflops of processing power and 76 petabytes of storage capacity. It’s now the world’s most powerful supercomputer outside government-owned systems.

But there is a bit of intrigue surrounding this “commercial” angle. I have done a small amount of work in France, and I learned that the difference between a French company and the French government is often difficult for a person from another country to understand. It’s not the tax policies, not the regulatory net, and not the quasi government committees and advisory groups. Nope, it’s the reality that those who go to the top French universities generally keep in touch. The approach is similar to India’s graduates of elite secondary schools. Therefore, I am not sure I am confident about the “outside government owned systems” statement in the write up.

Skepticism aside, the supercomputer you can buy from IBM is going to be outgunned by 10 other systems.

The other interesting allegedly true factoid in the write up is a node which includes the French, of course, IBM, and the ever lovable Google. IBM and Google, while not like graduates of GEM (Groupe des écoles des mine). Google’s hook up with IBM warrants some consideration.

Stephen E Arnold, June 18, 2019


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