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Pictures of technological imbalance via the Top500

After my post this morning about South Africa’s 30TF supercomputer coming online I got to wondering just how unevenly distributed the flops of the world are, so I made a couple pictures using IBM’s ManyEyes site.

These are quick-and-dirty, but suffice to give you a picture of where the world’s flops are housed. Click on the thumbs to see a bigger picture.

Top500In the first image each country in the Top500 is represented by a circle. The size of the circle is the sum (in GFLOPS) of Rpeak for systems in that country.

Top500In the second image the size of the circle in each country on the Top500 is scaled by the sum of Rpeak (in GFLOPS) for each system in that country. Note the lack of systems south of the equator.

Top500In the final image, three variables are plotted for each country on the Top500 in this image. On the x-axis is the count of systems from that country. The y-axis shows the distance in degrees latitude of each country from the equator (either positive or negative, negative latitudes are in the southern hemisphere). The size of the circle is the sum of Rpeak (in GLFOPS) of all Top500 systems from that country. The biggest dot all by itself in the top right is the United States.

The data were gathered as follows: the Top500 website itself provides a list of Rpeak and system count by country. I used the data from the June 2009 list. For the chart that shows distance from the equator, I used the latitude value from the Google Maps centered view that results when you search on a country name.



  1. Very cool information! I was always wondering how the processing power of the world was distributed. – Brandon

  2. Very good information …

  3. US researchers just won 9 of the 10 Nobel Prizes for the hard sciences. Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Apple, IBM, HP, etc. dominate their markets in technology. America’s drug research subsidizes the ROW. The US spends more on the military (and its processing power) than the rest of the world combined. Is it not logical and perhaps even necessary that the US would have most of the world’s computer processing power?

  4. Troposphere says:

    Along what dimension does the author believe there is an “Imbalance”, what evidence does he have to convince us, and what does the he propose as a remedy?

    I suggest that the supply of these systems is in perfect balance with demand, and that the title should read “Pictures of technological balance via the Top500″

  5. John West says:

    Troposphere – These pictures, and most of the others that one could draw that chart the distribution of technological and scientific capacity throughout the world, show a distinct non-homogeneous distribution of capability throughout the world. Certainly the most visible to my mind is the strong trend for Top500 systems to be located north of the equator. I’m not commenting on the nature of the market, or on the value of a capital market structure. But I am noting that advanced scientific capacity, seen through the lens of supercomputing power, is very lumpily distributed.

    Remedies? Don’t have any…I don’t make policy.

  6. John West says:

    Answers1 – I’m not arguing (and didn’t argue in my post) that an imbalance with respect to the US is unexpected. What is dismaying is that, beyond a very few countries, significant supercomputing power is not well distributed throughout the rest of the world. Given the value of supercomputers as a universal intellectual amplifier (credit to Dan Reed for the term), this virtually guarantees that the rest of the world is not a full partner in the process of scientific discovery.


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  3. [...] up with a German company makes sense: if you look at the Top500 visualization I did that breaks out the EU by country, Germany is second only to the US in ownership of Top500 [...]

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