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August 26, 2005

China Wants to Join ‘Petaflop Frat’

Nicole Hemsoth

China is itching to break away from its dependence on the United States when it comes to producing the next generation of supercomputers.

While China currently has more than one-third of the world's fastest supercomputers, the country desperately wants to establish its independence regarding the production of “petaflop” machines, those capable of working out 1,000 trillion mathematical operations per second — making them some eight times faster than the swiftest of the current generation of supercomputing platforms.

Chinese officials see petaflop machines as a crucial cog in their country's future, so steep investments in such already are underway. Japan too has expressed serious interest in busting through the current petaflop barrier to reach the next level of supercomputing.

This goal is nothing to be taken lightly as machines achieiving status in the “petaflop fraternity” will most likely cost at least $1 billion each. China's Lenova Group, which has acquired IBM's PC business, is a solid possibility for building the petaflop machines. As part of a five-year, government-backed initiative, Dawning and Galactic Computing both are onboard to assist. The target date for completion: 2010. Industry watchers expect France's Bull to complete its petaflop offering by 2013.

For China, there is national prode at stake. Besting the current world standard, which right now is the Blue Gene supercomputer in Livermore, Calif., would be quite a coup. Blue Gene reportedly has a neat speed of 40 trillion operations per second, so the bar is set high. Japan, meanwhile, reportedly is working on a petaflop that will boast 10 quadrillion calculations per second.