bwbug: John Payne's survey

Fitzmaurice, Michael michael.fitzmaurice at
Mon Nov 29 07:19:08 PST 2004


I agree with your observations. The future of high performance computing will be Beowulf type systems using AMD and Inetl processors. John Payne would like to survey the Beowulf Users Group's Systems and combine the data with his earlier report. The combined data could be made available to the BWBUG members. Do you have any suggestion on how we might get the members to provide the information? Would you and possibly Don Becker or others be interested in forming a informal committe to find ways to collect the data?

Mike Fitzmaurice

-----Original Message-----
From: bwbug-bounces at [mailto:bwbug-bounces at]
Sent: Tuesday, November 23, 2004 10:40 AM
To: bwbug at
Subject: bwbug: John Payne's survey

I wanted to share with you some thougths on where the computational
clusters seem to be going, based on numbers from John Payne's
survey. One can estimate an average number of CPUs per
cluster(*). Since John's customers presumably represent a
cross-section of current active cluster users, I suppose that this
number represents a current sweet spot for cluster applications: a
compromise between performance, scalability limits, price,
administration and environmental burdens, etc.

I note that John's cohort, on average, uses 128 CPUs per cluster, and
they expect this to be true for the next 2 years or so, as well.

Recently, I had a look at the numbers for the "Top 500 Supercomputers"
list and I compiled a similar statistic. Top 500 is of course more
ambitious, and more architecturally diverse: the overall number of
CPUs is 408629, for an average of 817 CPUs per cluster. Divided by
architecture, the dominant ones are:

      #systems share(%) #CPUs   CPU/cluster
Intel   318     63.6    194685  612.2
Power   54      10.8    65460   1212.
HP      50      10      26064   521.28
AMD     31      6.2     25296   816
Alpha   12      2.4     23512   1959.3
Nec     10      2       6488    648.8
PowerPC 8       1.6     51664   6458
(other architectures add up to less than 5% of the total number of systems)

The same list, ordered by the number of CPUs per cluster:

PowerPC 8       1.6     51664   6458
MIPS    2       0.4     7168    3584
Alpha   12      2.4     23512   1959.3
Sparc   4       0.8     5348    1337
Power   54      10.8    65460   1212.2
AMD     31      6.2     25296   816
Nec     10      2       6488    648.8
Intel   318     63.6    194685  612.2
HP      50      10      26064   521.28
Hitachi 4       0.8     1548    387
Cray    7       1.4     1396    199.4

I have several observations: 

 - IBM seems to own the biggest cluster market (i.e. the ASCI
   installations)---noone else can provision a 6000 CPU/cluster :)

 - MIPS, Alpha, Sparc and NEC are well supported commercially and 
   are used to implement large clusters, but they are probably legacy

 - Intel and AMD together constitute 2/3 of all installations, among
   the Top 500 and cluster size for them tends to be in the 600-800
   range. This will probably also represent the future mainstream
   high-end profile.

So, a typical workhorse production cluster is for a reasonable future
in the 128-CPU range, while high-end clusters use 5-10 times as large
installs. Our own experience bears this out: we have around 128 cpus,
in a typical computer room with modestly upgraded electrical and HVAC
facilities. Anything more would require further fairly heroic plant

		przemek klosowski, Ph.D. <przemek at>  (301) 975-6249
		Mail Stop 8560, NIST Center for Neutron Research, Bldg. 235
		National Institute of Standards and Technology
		Gaithersburg, MD 20899,      USA

(*) John gave the number of clusters he surveyed, and
the total number of CPUs, for both existing installations, and for
expected new installations in a (I think) two-year forecast.
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