Why supercomputer prefer Linux operating system

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Every six months, the Top500 list tells you which are the most powerful supercomputers in the world. And among other data, Linux stands out as the operating system of almost all.

More or less we know what operating system operates our mobile phone and our computer. And taking a look at the statistics available, we can understand what the operating systems most users around the world use.

Although the percentages can change the current trend is the dominance of Android in Apple’s mobile devices and iOS as the second mobile system. In laptops and desktops, Windows is still the dominant one, followed by macOS and Linux.

But what about the supercomputers? What operating system do they use to manage terabytes of information and process teraflops? With what software do you control the more than 10 million cores of the most powerful supercomputer?

Well, according to the data available for TOP500, the most respected official list that every six months classifies supercomputers for their processing power, the 500 most powerful supercomputers have Linux as an operating system. Literally.

A look at the TOP 10

Let’s see what software runs through the ten most powerful supercomputers to November 2017. Basically, they are in China (2), United States (4) and Japan (3). Switzerland is the fourth country on the TOP 10 list.

The two most powerful supercomputers, both in China, use Sunway RaiseOS and Kylin Linux, respectively. Both operating systems are Linux versions created exclusively in China and are available in more than 200 of the 500 fastest supercomputers.

Sunway RaiseOS was created exclusively to work with the Sunway architecture, processors made in China that have achieved the first place in the TOP500.

Kylin Linux, meanwhile, was created by the National University of Technology Défense focusing on security and is used by both the Chinese military and other Chinese government organizations.

The third most powerful supercomputer, the Swiss Piz Daint, has its own Linux, Cray Linux Environment, designed primarily to work with more than 500,000 processor cores.

The most powerful supercomputer in Japan employs CentOS. Based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, it is designed for professional environments and network management.

And as for American supercomputers, it depends on the manufacturer. Titan, Cori, and Trinity, for example, also use Cray Linux Environment.

Many reasons to use Linux

What makes Linux the ideal candidate to manage the most powerful supercomputers in the world?

We can talk about many reasons, but the most relevant is the malleability of Linux at zero cost. That is, we can adapt Linux to specific needs, such as a specific architecture (as with most supercomputers in the TOP 10 list).

In many cases, the supercomputer manufacturers themselves provide their Linux-based operating system adapted to the technologies they will use.

In others, we opt for an existing version of Linux; usually, a version focused on the management of large computer or network parks, such as CentOS, Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Second, creating your own Linux is free. And acquiring a license for existing business Linux is much cheaper than the cost of a UNIX license a decade ago.

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