Content - Switzerland leaps ahead in supercomputing

  • June 23, 2017

Switzerland leaps ahead in supercomputing

Tokyo (SCCIJ) - The new number three in the latest TOP 500 Supercomputer ranking is the upgraded Piz Daint of Switzerland, installed at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in Lugano. Only two Chinese supercomputers are ranked higher. Switzerland could even be considered the largest supercomputer nation in the world if the installed computer power is weighted with gross domestic product (GDP). The first Japanese supercomputer in the TOP 500, the Oakforest-PACS, a Fujitsu PRIMERGY system running at Japan’s Joint Center for Advanced High Performance Computing, stands at number seven, followed by Fujitsu’s K computer, installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS), at number eight.

Cables of Piz Daint

Machine for pioneering research

Named after Piz Daint, a prominent mountain peak in Grisons that overlooks the Fuorn pass, this Swiss supercomputer is a hybrid Cray XC40/XC50 system and the flagship system for national High Performance Computing Service in Switzerland.

Piz Daint has been updated in fall 2016 and incorporates the previous Cray XC30 named Piz Daint & Piz Dora. Due to this extensive hardware upgrade, the CSCS supercomputer is again the most powerful mainframe computer outside Asia, said the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) in a press release. The machine would enable pioneering research in Switzerland and Europe.  

The Piz Daint consists of conventional processors (CPUs) and graphics processors (GPUs). Thanks to its innovative architecture, Piz Daint would also be one of the most energy-efficient mainframe computers in the world, ETH Zurich said. Drawing "just" 2.3 megawatt of power while running at full tilt, the system logs an energy efficiency ratio of 8.6 gigaflops/watt.

Swiss supercomputer Piz Daint in Lugano

Swiss supercomputer Piz Daint in Lugano

Upgrade doubles performance

Piz Daint’s current Linpack result of 19.6 petaflops enabled the system to climb five positions in the rankings. Its theoretical performance is 25.3 petaflops. One petaflop is equal to one thousand trillion operations per second. A "flop" (floating point operation) can be thought of as a step in a calculation. The upgrade by additional NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPUs doubled the Linpack performance of the system’s previous mark of 9.8 petaflops in November 2016, top500org reported.  

According to ETH Zurich, supercomputers have become an integral part of research: in addition to theory and experiments, simulations, data analyses and visualizations now also make key contributions to most research areas. Powerful systems such as Piz Daint are crucial for high-resolution computer-intensive simulations and can analyse huge amounts of data. The Swiss supercomputer is even able to analyze the resulting data while the calculations are still ongoing.  

Japan increases supercomputer pace

Japan has also an excellent track record in the field of supercomputing. In 1996, three Japanese supercomputers took the first three positions in the global ranking of all such machines. Currently, Japan is building a supercomputer, the AI Bridging Cloud, which is expected to have a peak performance of 130 petaflops, more than six times faster the Piz Daint today.  

But besides sheer number crunching capabilities, a supercomputer must also be able to perform certain applications quickly. This performance is judged by the HPCG benchmark. The HPCG (High Performance Conjugate Gradient) benchmark measures how fast a computer can solve symmetric sparse linear system encountered in actual engineering and industrial applications. They require a balance between calculation performance, memory performance and communication performance, unlike the Linpack measurement, which looks at calculation speed alone.  

With regard to this measurement, Fujitsu's K computer just took the first place globally for the second consecutive time. All of its 82,944 compute nodes were used, achieving a performance of 602 teraflops. This figure is much higher than the supercomputers placed higher than the K computer in the TOP500 rankings, demonstrating outstanding performance in various science and engineering fields.    


Text: SCCIJ based on reports by ETH Zurich, and Fujitsu; Photo (top): The cables interconnecting the compute nodes of the supercomputer Piz Daint at CSCS in Lugano (CSCS), Photo (middle): Overview of supercomputer Piz Daint (CSCS)

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