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China takes the lead in supercomputing while America sleeps

Summary: The Apollo program demonstrated America’s superpower status in the 1960’s. Today’s contests are more diffuse, such as the race to build the most and largest supercomputers. China has moved into the lead in this, another milestone in its quest to again become the Middle Kingdom. Helping in their quest is America’s unwillingness to invest in itself, preferring to fund the 1%, a massive military, and foreign wars.

China’s New Supercomputer Puts the US Even Further Behind

By Brian Barrett, Wired, 21 June 2016 — Excerpt.

“This week, China’s Sunway TaihuLight officially became the fastest supercomputer in the world. The previous champ? Also from China. What used to be an arms race for supercomputing primacy among technological nations has turned into a blowout.

“The Sunway TaihuLight is indeed a monster: theoretical peak performance of 125 petaflops, 10,649,600 cores, and 1.31 petabytes of primary memory. That’s not just “big.” Former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits is big. This is, like, mountain big. Jupiter big.

“TaihuLight’s abilities are matched only by the ambition that drove its creation. Fifteen years ago, China claimed zero of the top 500 supercomputers in the world. Today, it not only has more than everyone else — including the US — but its best machine boasts speeds five times faster than the best the US can muster.

“…Its 10.6 million cores are more than three times the previous leader, China’s Tianhe-2, and nearly 20 times the fastest U.S. supercomputer, Titan, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. ‘It’s running very high rates of execution speed, very good efficiency, and very good power efficiency,’ says University of Tennessee computer scientist Jack Dongarra. ‘It’s really quite impressive.’  {Its peak power consumption under load (the HPL benchmark) is 15.37 MW, or 6 Gflops/Watt. It would have taken the #2 spot on the November 2015 Green500 list.}

“…TaihuLight is faster than anything scheduled to come online in the US until 2018, when three Department of Energy sites will each receive a machine expected to range from 150 to 200 petaflops. That’s ahead of where China is now — but two years is half an eternity in computer-time.

“…The other significant TaihuLight achievement stings US interests even more, because it’s political. China’s last champ, Tianhe-2, had Intel inside. But in February of 2015, the Department of Commerce, citing national security concerns — supercomputers excel at crunching metadata for the NSA and their foreign equivalents — banned the sale of Intel Xeon processor to Chinese supercomputer labs.

“Rather than slow the rate of Chinese supercomputer technology, the move appears to have had quite the opposite effect. ‘I believe the Chinese government put more research funding into the projects to develop and put in place indigenous processors,’ Dongarra says. ‘The result of that, in some sense, is this machine today.'”

—————————- End excerpt. —————————-

The operating system is a Linux-based Chinese system called Sunway Raise. Bloomberg gives more detail about this remarkable achievement by China.

“The machine is powered by a SW26010 processor designed by Shanghai High Performance IC Design Center, TOP500 said Monday. “It’s not based on an existing architecture. They built it themselves,” said Jack Dongarra, a professor at the University of Tennessee and creator of the measurement method used by TOP500. “This is a system that has Chinese processors.” Previous supercomputer winners have had processors built on U.S. technology…

“This is the first time that the Chinese have more systems than the U.S., so that, I think, is a striking accomplishment,” said Dongarra. The Chinese had no machines in the 2001 list, he noted. In the latest, China has 167 entries compared with 165 for the U.S.

A video tour of the TaihuLight supercomputer

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What’s next for America? 200 petaflops in 2018!

“Oak Ridge National Lab’s (ORNL) Summit supercomputer, one of the three pre-exascale systems being developed for the Department of Energy under its CORAL program, will hit 200 petaflops when it becomes operational in two years.

“…In a Congressional Budget Request from the DOE dated February 2016, the agency put forth an FY2017 funding request for site preparation for Summit at ORNL, as well as installation and operation of the smaller 8.5-petaflop Theta supercomputer to be deployed at Argonne National Lab this year. In the request, the 200-petaflop figure is called out …

This money for Summit’s and Aurora’s {the 2018-19 predecessor} site preparation is not allocated yet, nor is the money for their actual installations, which presumably will be part of the FY18 budget request. So all of this might turn out to be wishful thinking, and given Congress’s recent performance, it surely could. But that’s the plan as it stands today.”

— From the TOP500 website, 27 June 2016. Red emphasis added.

What’s next for China? 1,000 petaflops by 2020.

“A supercomputer capable of at least a billion billion calculations per second {one thousand petaflops} will enter service by 2020, head of the school of computing at the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) said on June 15. According to the national plan for the next generation of high performance computers, China will develop an exascale computer during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020).

“’The government of Tianjin Binhai New Area, NUDT and the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin are working on the project, and we plan to name it Tianhe-3,’ said Liao Xiangke, the school head”.

— From The State Council of China, 16 June 2016.

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