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Supercomputing progress slows
by Brooks Hays
Oak Ridge, Tenn. (UPI) Nov 17, 2014

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

An updated list of the world's fastest supercomputers suggests computer power progress has tapered off, at least momentarily. The new iteration of the Top500 list, which is updated biannually, only features one new computer system, as competition among the world's fastest computer seems to have lulled.

"With few new systems at the top of the past few lists, the overall growth rate is now slowing," the list's organizers said in a press release.

The list-makers say the struggles of the world's biggest and fastest supercomputers is epitomized by the slowing improvement of the system at the bottom of the Top500 list. Between 1994 and 2008, the last place system increased its speed by an average of 90 percent every year. Since 2008, that growth rate has slowed to 55 percent.

Some experts suggest the slowdown is proof that a new emphasis is being placed on developing the performance of smaller to medium-sized systems. Others say the slowdown may be evidence that the speed test used to measure supercomputing power is outdated.

The current speed test, called Linpack, measures how fast a system can move "quadrillions of floating-point mathematical operations per second."

"Our own research shows that many classic HPC [high-performance computing] applications are only moderately related to the measure of Linpack," IBM told CNET.

A system in China has topped the list for the last several years, but IBM has promised to dethrone Tianhe-2 with a pair of supercomputers known as Sierra and Summit. This week, the Department of Energy announced that it would invest $325 million over the next two years to help tech companies IBM, NVIDIA and Mellanox construct the hardware and software necessary to bring Sierra and Summit online.

Sierra will be based out of California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, while Summit will be housed at Tennessee's Oak Ridge Laboratory, the current home of the United States' fastest computer, the Titan system.

Supercomputers are vital to a variety of scienitific research efforts -- from sequencing genomes to predicting weather and modeling climate change, from advanced physics simulation to designing jet engines.

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