Supercomputing arms race continues

While in the 1960s it was all about the space race, in 2013 a war will break out over who has the largest supercomputer.

This might be lowering the standards of humanity a little, but as the US launched what’s expected to be the world’s fastest supercomputer at 20 petaflops, China is building a machine that is intended to be five times faster when it is deployed in 2015.

China’s Tianhe-2 supercomputer will run at 100 petaflops and will be made and housed at the Guangzhou Supercomputing Centre.

What is interesting about the Chinese supercomputer is that it might be made entirely out of bits made behind the bamboo curtain.

According to IT World, China’s homegrown supercomputing industry is also still behind the US but is good enough to make supercomputers.

Supercomputer experts think that the current wars will result in the world having 1,000-petaflop performance by 2018.

China took the top spot on the world’s list of most powerful supercomputers in 2010 with the Tianhe-1A. That one had a theoretical peak speed of 4.7 petaflops, and used processors from Intel and Nvidia.

The Tianhe-2 will be designed by China’s National University of Defense Technology and will probably use a mix of homegrown and foreign chips.

The Chinese government is pushing the development of the country’s supercomputing technology, to limit its dependence on foreign sources according to Zhang Yunquan, a professor at the Institute of Software Chinese Academy of Sciences, who also keeps track of China’s top supercomputers.

He said that the government wants China’s supercomputers to reach 100 petaflops in 2015, and then 1 exaflop (1,000 petaflops) in 2018, he said.

While China has largely relied on US chips and software to develop its supercomputers, Zhang said this could gradually change as the country invests more in developing its own homegrown technology.

Last year China’s Sunway Bluelight supercomputer was built using a domestically developed processor, the Shenwei 1600.

Chen Dexun, a senior engineer at the supercomputing centre where China’s Sunway Bluelight machine is housed, said his supercomputer was created by a government decision to try using domestically developed processors in the Sunway Bluelight.

He said before the trial China was always using US chips, and so wanted to test its abilities in making these processors.

As the industry develops, China could also move toward selling its supercomputing technology to places such as Japan and Europe, Chen said.