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US takes back supercomputing crown with world's fastest computer

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June 18, 2012: Sequoia, an IBM supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, was named No. 1 on the TOP500, a list of the world's fastest supercomputers.IBM / Jeffrey Gluck

A U.S. supercomputer has won back the crown in the never-ending battle for the world's most powerful supercomputer. Its victory is the latest milestone marking the steady climb of computing power all across the globe.

The Top500 industry list gave its No. 1 ranking to the Sequoia supercomputer housed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California — a spot earned by Sequoia's ability to crunch 16.32 quadrillion calculations per second (16.32 petaflops/s). Such supercomputing power is used by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration to simulate nuclear weapons tests for older weapons that have been sitting in the U.S. arsenal.

"Computing platforms like Sequoia help the United States keep its nuclear stockpile safe, secure and effective without the need for underground testing," said Thomas D'Agostino, NNSA administrator.

Sequoia's climb to the top gives the U.S. its first No 1. supercomputer since November 2009. The Chinese Tianhe-1A supercomputer had seized the supercomputing crown in November 2010, but ranks No. 5 on this year's list — a sign of how quickly the world's supercomputing power has grown.

The Sequoia victory also bumps Fujitsu's "K Computer" down to second place. The Japanese supercomputer's 10.51 petaflops/s had ruled the list for the past two years after beating out China's Tianhe-1A.

Two other U.S. supercomputers joined Sequoia in taking three of the top 10 spots this year. The Mira supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois took the No. 3 spot, and the upgraded Jaguar supercomputer (the former U.S. champ) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee clocked in at No. 6.

(Both Sequoia and Mira represent the third generation of IBM's "Blue Gene" project designed to push supercomputing into the petaflop range.)

European supercomputers also made a strong showing with German supercomputers taking fourth place and eighth place, an Italian supercomputer taking No. 7, and a French supercomputer ranking No. 9.

China rounds out the top 10 with its second supercomputer on the list.

The top 10 of the Top500 list:

  • (U.S.) Sequoia at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California
  • (Japan) K Computer at RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science campus in Kobe
  • (U.S.) Mira at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois
  • (Germany) SuperMUC at Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching
  • (China) Tianhe-1A at National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin
  • (U.S.) Jaguar at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee
  • (Italy) Fermi at CINECA in Bologna
  • (Germany) JuQueen at Forschungszentrum Juelich in Julich
  • (France) Curie thin nodes at CEA/TGCC-GENCI in Bruyeres-le-Chatel
  • (China) Nebulae at National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen

The U.S. still holds the lion's share of high-performance computing in the world with 253 of 500 systems, even if that share has slipped from 263. Asia holds 121 systems, with China (68 systems) and Japan (34 systems) leading in that region. Europe has 107 systems with the U.K. (25), France (22) and Germany (20) in a tight race. Top 500 systems also appear in scattered countries such as Israel, Canada, United Arab Emirates and Australia.

But the U.S. could soon have a new supercomputer champion come online in 2012 – the 20 petaflop "Titan" supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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