The semi-annual Top500 supercomputer list is always a time to stand in awe of what the outer limits of high-performance computing (HPC) can mean. At the organization’s Nov. 12 event, all the talk focused on Titan, the Cray-built supercomputer that is now housed at Oakridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Now considered the world’s fastest supercomputer, Titan offers a performance of 17.59 Petaflop/s, or quadrillions of calculations per second, thanks to a combination of chips from Advanced Micro Devices, as well as Nvidia’s Tesla K20x GPU accelerators.
However, lost in the mass of information about petascale performance and GPU accelerators is a shift in the interconnect technology used with supercomputers and high-performance machines. Specifically, InfiniBand continues to extend its market share within this area of extreme enterprise computing, while Ethernet is losing ground.
InfiniBand interconnects are now used within 226 of the 500 machines on the Top500 list. In the previous list, posted just six months ago, 209 supercomputers used InfiniBand technology.
On the flipside, HPC machines using Gigabit Ethernet fell from 207 to 188.
The reasons for the growing acceptance of InfiniBand in supercomputers and HPC vary, but the technology’s ability to carry different types of traffic over a single connection, combined with low latency, helps when one imagines these giant clusters all working together to solve the same problem, such as creating a weather model that can more accurately predict climate change.
For businesses, these supercomputers are increasingly finding their way into the enterprise, especially in the financial industry where they can perform millions of calculations per second to better predict the whims and wishes of Wall Street and investors.
HPC is also being asked to take on other tasks such as big data and cloud computing, which means that InfiniBand, if it can prove itself a reliable interconnect technology used with big-time scientific research, is going to make its way into more and more datacenters in the future, especially as IT looks for alternatives to Ethernet.
Still, it’s hard to count Ethernet out just yet. While the technology is about to turn 40-years-old soon, it continues as a stalwart IT technology with many IT administrators refusing the rip it out of the datacenter just yet. In fact, IDC finds that Ethernet revenue continues to grow and there are new investment opportunities.
The big question is: When companies start building out new datacenters for their cloud applications, big data, and analytical projects, what technology will IT pros look for when connecting all their hardware together? While supercomputers are cutting-edge technology, eventually those advances find their way into our everyday lives.
The Top500 list is always a good place to see where the future is headed.