LANL Roadrunner remains on top

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By Roger Snodgrass

It was a cliffhanger, but the Roadrunner beat Wile E. Coyote again, even disguised as a Jaguar.

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Roadrunner won another victory by a nose in the latest Top500 supercomputer rankings.

LANL’s IBM-built supercomputer, which was the first in the world to break the petaflop barrier, held on to its title as fastest in the land, beating Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Cray XT5, known as “Jaguar,” by .046 petaflops

A petaflop is one quadrillion floating-point operations per second.

The final score: 1.105 petaflops to 1.059 petaflops.

“It feels good to be number one, very good” said Andy White, the lab’s deputy associate director for theory, simulation and computation. “It’s been a very interesting, very challenging team effort.”

Attending SC08, the major high performance computing conference of the year in Austin, White said, “We’d been out of the top spot for a long time.”

He said LANL had the fastest computer the first time the competition was awarded in 1993 but had been back in the pack since then.

White will be receiving the award this afternoon.

“It was a close call this time,” he said.

Although the 4-minute mile succumbed long ago to progressive human achievement, the petaflop was a similar, seemingly unreachable speed in the computer world until the Roadrunner.

On May 26, 2008 at 3:30 a.m., in an IBM laboratory in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where the Roadrunner was first assembled, that hurdle was history.

But a newcomer in the field, the Jaguar out of ORNL in Tennessee started showing some signs of some advanced capabilities, reaching some very high performance speeds.

“We knew they were getting a petascale machine, but exactly how big it was going to be was – shall we say – not discussed publicly,” White said. “We really didn’t know the results until it was posted on the Web Monday.”

A NASA computer called Pleiades, an SGI system at Ames Research Center in California made its debut on the list with about half the speed of the fastest pair, slightly ahead of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Blue Gene, which held the top spot for three-and-a-half years before being unseated by the Roadrunner in June 2008.

Sandia’s “Red Storm,” a Cray system, came in at number 9 at 204.2 Teraflops, about one-fifth as fast as the leaders.

This was the 31st running of the Top500 list, which is calculated every six months.

Department of Energy national laboratories boasted seven of the top 10 fastest supercomputers. Nine of the 10 systems were in the United States, but the Chinese Dawning 500A edged into the top 10 this time around, the 31st compilation of the list.