Published: 23.06.09
High Performance Computing

Europe’s third fastest supercomputing center

Today, Tuesday, the list of the 500 fastest computers in the world was announced at the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg. The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) run by ETH Zurich came 23rd with its Cray XT5. Only two European computer centers are faster.

Nik Salzmann
There are only 22 computers in the world that are faster than the “Monte Rosa” computer at the CSCS in Ticino. (Photo: Michele De Lorenzi/CSCS)
There are only 22 computers in the world that are faster than the “Monte Rosa” computer at the CSCS in Ticino. (Photo: Michele De Lorenzi/CSCS) (large view)

An upgrade carried out in the spring catapulted the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS), which is run by ETH Zurich, from 414th to 23rd place on the list of the world’s fastest computers. The “Monte Rosa” computer operated at the Manno building in Ticino and manufactured by the American company Cray is currently the fastest computer in Switzerland. Its peak performance is 141.5 Teraflops, i.e. 141.5 trillion floating points per second. The CSCS’s previous best in the Top 500 fastest computers was 41st in June 1996.

The leap into the top 30 came on the back of an upgrade carried out in the spring, which was largely financed by federal funds from the economic stimulus package and ETH Zurich. (See ETH Life article Monte Rosa – the peak of Swiss supercomputing” from May 29). Following a further upgrade, the CSCS is banking on another top position in the next rankings due to be published in the fall.

USA dominates top positions

The fastest computer in the world is currently “Roadrunner” from the Los Alamos National Laboratory of the US Energy Department. Second place went to “Jaguar” from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where CSCS Director Thomas Schulthess, Professor of Computational Physics, worked before returning to Switzerland. With his team there, he became the first researcher to achieve a computational power of one Petaflop – i.e. one billion floating points per second – with a scientific application and received the Gordon Bell Prize.
Apart from the USA, only one other country made the Top 10: the Jülich research center in Germany came third and tenth. The CSCS is the third fastest computer center in Europe after Jülich and the Centre Informatique National de l’Enseignement Supérieur in Montpellier.
The other Swiss institutions to make the Top 500 were the Geophysics Company (173rd), CERN (348th) and EPF Lausanne (395th). In November 2008, when the list was last published, the Geophysics Company was the fastest computer in Switzerland, coming 85th.
The Top 500 list of the fastest supercomputers is published twice a year: once in June at the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg and once in November at the SC Conference in Austin, Texas. Since the first list appeared in 1993, the computational power of the top computers has increased more than thousandfold. There have been times in the past when Switzerland was only represented on the list by the CSCS. However, the best performance in the rankings by Switzerland belongs to an IBM supercomputer operated by EPF Lausanne, which came ninth in June 2005.

The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS)

The Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) was founded in 1991 by order of the state and has been run by ETH Zurich in Manno, Ticino, ever since. It provides its capacities for all national research institutions and thus works with both ETH institutes, the Swiss universities, the research establishments in the ETH domain, CERN and MeteoSchweiz. At the end of May 2009, the Swiss Federal Council decided to implement the Swiss National Strategic Plan for High Performance Computing and Networking (HPCN). Under this, a new high performance computing system should be established at the CSCS by 2012 that can be used as a national competence center by all Swiss universities and will perform computer services for the economy. The new system is to be housed in a new building in Lugano-Cornaredo.