Supercomputing supremacy still eludes U.S.

The latest list of the top 500 fastest supercomputers is out and although Japan's Earth Simulator retains the top spot, machines from IBM Corp. are lurking in the wings.

The new rankings were presented last week at the International Supercomputer Conference in Heidelberg, Germany. The list is compiled by a committee of supercomputing experts in Germany and the United States.

The Earth Simulator clocked in at more than 35 teraflops, or 35 trillion calculations per second, retaining the top spot that it has held since launching in 2002.

To put that performance in perspective, the second-ranked supercomputer, housed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and based on more than 4,000 Intel Itanium 2 processors, peaked at about 20 teraflops when running the researchers' benchmark tests.

But the experts are eyeing a pair of IBM-built supercomputers still under construction.

Two prototypes of IBM's BlueGene/L system, a joint project with Lawrence Livermore, ranked No. 4 (11.7 teraflops) and No. 8 (8.7 teraflops) and are expected to overtake the Earth Simulator in next year's rankings. The BlueGene/L system, which uses IBM PowerPC 440 processors, is scheduled to go live as early as the end of the year.

In testimony last week before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, David Turek, IBM's vice president of Deep Computing, said it was critical for the nation to pursue a leadership position in high-performance computing. Congress is currently considering a pair of bills authorizing and codifying policy for high-performance computing research and development at federal agencies

"It is an increasingly important tool facilitating scientific discovery, business competitiveness and homeland security in a rapidly changing world," Turek said.

"Federal funding has traditionally seeded high-risk research and enabled the critical university research necessary to advance high-performance computing and other important areas in information technology," Turek said. "This investment in research has complemented the financial risks taken by the firms in our industry."

According to the latest rankings, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM now leads all other companies in systems on the top 500 list.

For more information on the rankings, see

With more than $900 million in prime federal IT revenues, IBM ranked No. 11 on Washington Technology's 2004 Top 100 list.

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