Did Lenovo Defend Its TOP500 Supercomputer Throne At ISC 2019?

By Patrick Moorhead - July 26, 2019
Lenovo powers the MareNostrum 4 supercomputer in Barcelona

ISC 2019 took place last month in Frankfurt, Germany. While I was unable to attend the annual supercomputing conference in person this year, one thing that always catches my eye at the show was the release of the latest Top 500 List of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. This latest iteration of the list is historic—it’s the first time that a petaflop of Rmax performance was the minimum requirement to make the list.

Lenovo’s HPC business has come leaps in bounds over the last several years, rocketing to the top of the pack in virtually no time. Last year, Lenovo announced it had officially taken the number 1 spot on the Top 500 List, with its systems accounting for 117 of the top 500 supercomputers globally (see my coverage here). This was a whopping two years ahead of when Lenovo DCG lead, Kirk Skaugen, said it would happen. So how did Lenovo fare this time around? Let’s take a closer look.

Continuing to dominate

Lenovo’s EVP and President of Lenovo's Data Center Group, Kirk Skaugen, announced the company’s goal of becoming #1 in HPC by 2020 two summers ago. At the time I applauded the audacity and ambition of the target, and Skaugen’s bold willingness to put the rest of the industry on notice. It took only one year to show that Lenovo wasn’t kidding around—Lenovo took home the crown two years ahead of its own schedule.

Despite its mission being accomplished, Lenovo clearly wasn’t content to rest on its laurels. The new June 2019 Top500 list shows Lenovo’s lead growing—not only did it retain its number 1 spot, but it now holds an impressive 173 of the top 500 systems on the list. Let me do the math for you—that’s 34.6%, essentially one third, of the top supercomputers in the world that run on Lenovo systems. Lenovo isn’t just winning this list, either—it’s winning by a lot. The company has over 100 more systems on the list than its closest competitor, Inspur.

It’s also worth noting the breakdown of the list—Lenovo has three systems in the top 30, and nine in the top 100. Additionally, when it comes to overall performance, it’s the top vendor on the list (based on Rmax and Rpeak benchmarks). It’s also notable that Lenovo leads in diverse markets—its supercomputers on the list fall into 19 different markets. The company also took back the number 1 position in PRC with a total of 74 entries.

How is Lenovo doing this?

Some are quick to disparage Lenovo’s ascent to the willingness to take a lower margin on notoriously low-margin HPC deals. Lenovo is able to absorb lower margins, but I don’t believe that isn’t the primary reason.

Lenovo powers the MareNostrum 4 supercomputer in Barcelona

First off, don’t forget that Lenovo bought most of its server capability from IBM, a leader in HPC. More importantly, Lenovo has invested in key HPC technologies that matter. Lenovo knows how to cool systems like no other, and this was an IBM heritage for decades. Lenovo amped this up with its Neptune liquid cooling technology that is nothing short of impressive. Add this to its Smart Control Software to minimize power consumption, rear door heat exchangers and direct to node warm water cooling, you really have a winning combination.

Wrapping up

While lists certainly aren’t everything, the latest Top500 serves as a good yardstick to measure Lenovo’s progress in HPC over the last several years. The headline “Lenovo retains #1 position” might be less attention-grabbing than the company’s original ascension to the top of the list, but it takes impressive focus, innovation, and execution to stay on top once you’ve gotten there. Lenovo’s got the goods. Don’t be surprised to see the company notch even more wins on the list next time around.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.  

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.