Most supercomputers run Linux – discuss the situation

Since 2018, the five hundred most powerful systems in the world have been running on Linux. We discuss the reasons for this situation and provide expert opinions.

Photos – Rawpixel – PD

Market condition

So far, Linux is losing to the other OS in the struggle for the PC market. According to Statista, Linux is installed on only 1.65% of computers, while 77% of users work with Microsoft OS.

Things are better in the cloud and IaaS environment, although here Windows remains the leader. For example, 45% of clients use this OS, while 44% prefer Linux distributions.

But if we talk about high-performance computing, then Linux is a clear leader. According to a recent report from the Top500 portal, this is a project that makes a rating of the world's most powerful computing facilities supercomputers from the list of top 500 built on Linux.

On the Summit machine (number one on the list at the time of writing), which was designed by IBM, Red Hat Enterprise is installed. The same system controls the second most powerful supercomputer – Sierra, while the Chinese installation of TaihuLight runs on Linux-based Sunway Raise OS.

Reasons for Linux

Performance. The Linux kernel is monolithic and stores all the necessary components – drivers, task scheduler, file system. At the same time, kernel services are executed in the address space of the kernel, which increases overall performance. Linux also has relatively universal hardware requirements. Some distributions operate on devices with a memory capacity of 128 MB. The fact that Linux-based machines are more productive than Windows-based was recognized even by one of the Microsoft developers several years ago. Among the reasons he highlighted incremental updates aimed at optimizing the code base.

Openness. Supercomputers of the 70s and 80s of the last century were mostly built on commercial distributions based on UNIX, for example, UNICOS from Cray. Universities and research laboratories were forced to pay large royalties to the authors of the OS, which negatively affected the final cost of high-performance computers – it amounted to millions of dollars. The advent of an open operating system has significantly reduced software costs. In 1998, the first Linux-based supercomputer, Avalon Cluster, was introduced. He was collected at the Los Alamos National Laboratory of the United States for only 152 thousand dollars.

The machine had a performance of 19.3 gigaflops and took 314 place in the world top. At first glance, this is a small achievement, but the price / performance ratio attracted developers of supercomputers. In just two years, Linux managed to capture 10% of the market.

Customization. Each supercomputer has a unique IT infrastructure. Linux openness gives engineers the flexibility they need to make changes and optimize performance. Administrator Eddie Epstein, who participated in the design of the Watson supercomputer, called accessibility and relative ease of management the main reason for choosing SUSE Linux.

Supercomputers of the near future

The IBM Summit computing system with a capacity of 148 petaflops has been holding the first line of the Top500 for several years. But in 2021 the situation may change – several exaflops supercomputers will enter the market at once.

Photo – OLCF at ORNL – CC BY

One of them is being developed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) in collaboration with specialists from Cray. Its capacity will be directed to space exploration and the effects of global warming, the search for drugs for the treatment of cancer and new materials for solar panels. It is already known that the supercomputer will be controlled by the Cray Linux Environment OS – it is based on SUSE Linux Enterprise.

China will also introduce its exaflops high-performance car. It will be called Tianhe-3 and will find application in genetic engineering and drug development. Kylin Linux, which is already used for its predecessor, Tianhe-2, will have to be installed on the supercomputer.

Thus, we can expect that in the next few years the status quo will continue, and Linux will continue to strengthen its leadership in the niche of the most powerful supercomputers.

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