China’s Indigenous Supercomputing Strategy Bears First Fruit

By Michael Feldman

November 1, 2011

If anyone wasn’t taking China seriously as a contender for supercomputing supremacy, such doubts should have been dispelled last week when the New York Times reported that the nation has deployed its first petascale supercomputer built with domestically produced CPUs. And it’s not just the processors that were homegrown. Based on a presentation delivered last month at the China’s Annual Meeting of National High Performance Computing, most of major components of the new machine were designed and built with native engineering, including the liquid cooling technology, the system network, and the software stack.

As we recapped last week, the Sunway BlueLight MPP, installed in September at the National Supercomputer Center in Jinan, is being powered by 8,704 ShenWei SW1600 processors. The resulting machine delivers just a over a petaflop of performance, with a Linpack rating of 796 teraflops. That will probably place it somewhere between 15th and 20th place on the upcoming TOP500 list, assuming the engineers at Jinan sent their submission in on time.

Impressively, its power consumption of just one megawatt will make it one of the more power-efficient of CPU-only supercomputers in the work. Running Linpack, BlueLight delivers 741 megaflops/watt, which would place it in the top ten of the current Green500, a list that ranks the energy efficiency of supercomputers.

Perhaps even more impressively, this was all accomplished with CPUs built on 65nm process technology, which is two generations behind what can be had at most of the major fabs today. According to the presentation last week, the domestic ShenWei chip is a 16-core, 64-bit RISC processor running between 0.975 – 1.2 GHz. Assuming a frequency of 1.1 GHz, the CPU will can deliver a peak double precision floating point performance of 140.8 gigaflops. Note that if the 8,704 CPUs were running at that speed, the machine would actually deliver 1.2 peak petaflops, not the claimed 1.07 petaflops. Apparently the supercomputer is equipped with processors clocked at the lower end of their frequency range.

Digging a little deeper into the specs, the CPU is a four-issue superscalar design with two integer and two floating-point execution units. The integer unit has a 7-stage pipeline, while the floating point unit is implemented as a 10-stage pipeline. The system bus is 128 bits wide.

As is the case with most CPUs nowadays, the chip contains an integrated DDR3 memory controller. It feeds the 16 cores at a rate of up to 68 GB/second, using four memory channels. Each of the machine’s CPUs is directly connected to 16 GB of memory, although the ShenWei’s maximum memory reach is a whopping 1 TB (and 8 TB for virtual memory).

The chip also contains Level 1 and Level 2 caches — 8 KB each of instruction and data for L1, and 96 KB for L2. Those are rather small by modern CPU standards, but considering the relatively large geometries of 65nm transistors, there probably wasn’t room for both large caches and lots of cores. In this case, the chip architects opted to maximize core count.

Design of the ShenWei microprocessors is being attributed to the Jiangnán Computing Research Lab, with support from the Shandong government. The chips themselves are being fabbed by “a company in Shanghai,” which plans to moves from the current 65nm process node to 45nm. According to the Wikipedia entry on the ShenWei, this is the third generation of the architecture.

The CPUs are rather densely packed in the BlueLight system. Each 1U box crams together four dual-socket motherboards, which is about two to four times the density of a typical design. Normally that would make for an uncomfortably hot enclosure, so to compensate, the system is entirely water cooled. From the pictures in the presentation, it looks like piped liquid is run through the motherboard to maximize heat dissipation.

Each node — what they refer to as a super node — consist of 256 CPUs (4,096 cores) and 4 TB of memory, providing 32.7 teraflops of peak performance. Intra-node communication is supported by a high-speed backplane, which delivers 1 terabyte/second of bandwidth.

The system network is the most conventional part of the machine, being based on QDR InfiniBand. In this case, the engineers built custom-made 256- and 324-port switches, and outfitted the connections with optical fiber. The network is a fat-tree topology and is designed for optimized routing as well as dynamic fault tolerance. It’s not clear if Mellanox or QLogic components are in the mix here, but no mention was made of third-party switch ASICs or NICs.

The software stack is attributed to Sunway, which has provided the “virtualization” management, a parallel operating system, the parallel file system, the compiler for the ShenWei CPUs, multicore math libraries, and a Java support platform. Compiler support includes the usual suspects: C, C++, and Fortran, as well as UPC and OpenMP. The requisite MPI library rounds out the software stack.

With the ShenWei CPU, China has begun the process of edging out foreign-built processors with its own designs. The BlueLight machine first supercomputer on China’s TOP100 list with homegrown CPUs. At it stands now, 85 of those systems use Intel processors, with the remaining 14 using AMD parts. It’s clearly China’s intent to reduce, or perhaps even eliminate entirely, its dependence on processors designed outside its borders — at least for its HPC needs.

In aggregate, the Chinese have built a what appears to be world-class supercomputer, designed and built without the help of any US-based chipmakers or system vendors. The Japanese, of course, accomplish this a fairly regular basis, the latest example being the K supercomputer at RIKEN. By contrast, Europe possesses only an incomplete domestic HPC industry, with system vendors like Bull relying on exogenous CPUs, interconnects, and other components. For China, a relative newcomer to the world of high-end HPC, designing and building a domestic supercomputer is a major achievement.

Should vendors be worried? Certainly chipmakers like Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA should view this development with some trepidation. Likewise for HPC system vendors such as IBM, HP, Dell and others. China is a large and growing market for high performance computing infrastructure, and if they decide to take a homegrown approach to HPC technology, that could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars per year in lost revenue for these US-based companies.

As far as the broader picture of US (and European) competitiveness in HPC capability, there is also reason for concern. A number of industry insiders believe the Chinese are determined to beat the US and other nations in the race to exaflops. Convey co-founder and chief scientist Steve Wallach is one such individual. According to him, the dense packaging, impressive performance per watt metrics, and water cooled technology of the BlueLight system are signs of serious engineering prowess on the part of the Chinese engineers.

“This is ground-up design,” Wallach told HPCwire. “They own the technology, and that’s the key.”

More importantly, he believes the technology can scale more easily than mainstream products being offered in HPC today. In particular, if the Chinese catch up (or outsource) to more advanced fab technology, the ShenWei processors could be quite formidable. According to him, compared to a 65nm die, 32nm technology would provide four times the available silicon real estate, freeing the ShenWei designers to add more cache — something Wallach believes is a weakness in the current design.

A more obvious advantage is that, rather than relying on commodity processors and commercial clusters, the Chinese government seems willing to develop processors and systems targeted specifically to HPC. The Japanese government has done this to some extent with the aforementioned K machine and the NEC vector machines, but in the US and Europe, there is no direct government support to fund HPC processors, and only piecemeal support from various agencies to design and build advanced supercomputing systems.

In that sense, the Chinese can exploit their considerable financial resources to outrun the competition if they choose to do so. And if the new ShenWei processor and the BlueLight system is an indication of a systematic strategy, then the Chinese have already made that choice.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

New Algorithm Overcomes Hurdle in Fusion Energy Simulation

January 15, 2022

The exascale era has brought with it a bevy of fusion energy simulation projects, aiming to stabilize the notoriously delicate—and so far, unmastered—clean energy source that would transform the world virtually overn Read more…

Summit Powers Novel Protein Function Prediction Work

January 13, 2022

There are hundreds of millions of sequenced proteins and counting—but only 170,000 have had their structures solved by researchers, bottlenecking our understanding of proteins and their functions across organisms’ ge Read more…

Q-Ctrl – Tackling Quantum Hardware’s Noise Problems with Software

January 13, 2022

Implementing effective error mitigation and correction is a critical next step in advancing quantum computing. While a lot of attention has been given to efforts to improve the underlying ‘noisy’ hardware, there's be Read more…

Nvidia Defends Arm Acquisition Deal: a ‘Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity’

January 13, 2022

GPU-maker Nvidia is continuing to try to keep its proposed acquisition of British chip IP vendor Arm Ltd. alive, despite continuing concerns from several governments around the world. In its latest action, Nvidia filed a 29-page response to the U.K. government to point out a list of potential benefits of the proposed $40 billion deal. Read more…

SDSC Supercomputers Helped Enable Safer School Reopenings

January 13, 2022

The omicron variant of Covid-19 is sending cases skyrocketing around the world. Still, many national and local governments are hesitant to disrupt society in major ways as they did in 2020, opting instead to leave school Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

shutterstock 377963800

New – Amazon EC2 Hpc6a Instance Optimized for High Performance Computing

High Performance Computing (HPC) allows scientists and engineers to solve complex, compute-intensive problems such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD), weather forecasting, and genomics. Read more…

Voyager AI Supercomputer Gives Investigators New Deep Learning Experimental Platform

January 13, 2022

As human-caused climate change warms the planet, creating drier conditions across the Western U.S., wildfire intensity has grown. California’s wildfires over the last few years have devastated land, families, and commu Read more…

Q-Ctrl – Tackling Quantum Hardware’s Noise Problems with Software

January 13, 2022

Implementing effective error mitigation and correction is a critical next step in advancing quantum computing. While a lot of attention has been given to effort Read more…

Nvidia Defends Arm Acquisition Deal: a ‘Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity’

January 13, 2022

GPU-maker Nvidia is continuing to try to keep its proposed acquisition of British chip IP vendor Arm Ltd. alive, despite continuing concerns from several governments around the world. In its latest action, Nvidia filed a 29-page response to the U.K. government to point out a list of potential benefits of the proposed $40 billion deal. Read more…

Nvidia Buys HPC Cluster Management Company Bright Computing

January 10, 2022

Graphics chip powerhouse Nvidia today announced that it has acquired HPC cluster management company Bright Computing for an undisclosed sum. Unlike Nvidia’s bid to purchase semiconductor IP company Arm, which has been stymied by regulatory challenges, the Bright deal is a straightforward acquisition that aims to expand... Read more…

SC21 Panel on Programming Models – Tackling Data Movement, DSLs, More

January 6, 2022

How will programming future systems differ from current practice? This is an ever-present question in computing. Yet it has, perhaps, never been more pressing g Read more…

Edge to Exascale: A Trend to Watch in 2022

January 5, 2022

Edge computing is an approach in which the data is processed and analyzed at the point of origin – the place where the data is generated. This is done to make data more accessible to end-point devices, or users, and to reduce the response time for data requests. HPC-class computing and networking technologies are critical to many edge use cases, and the intersection of HPC and ‘edge’ promises to be a hot topic in 2022. Read more…

Citing ‘Shortfalls,’ NOAA Targets Hundred-Fold HPC Increase Over Next Decade

January 5, 2022

From upgrading the Global Forecast System (GFS) to acquiring new supercomputers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been making big moves in the HPC sphere over the last few years—but now it’s setting the bar even higher. In a new report, NOAA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) highlighted... Read more…

HPC Career Notes: January 2022 Edition

January 4, 2022

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it Read more…

Climavision Targets Weather Forecasting Through HPC Cloud Bursts

January 4, 2022

If Climavision isn’t on your radar just yet, that’s understandable: the company launched from stealth just six months ago, emerging in June with a formidable $100 million in funding. Its promise: to roll out a combination of numerical weather prediction (NWP), AI, traditional weather observations, satellite data... Read more…

IonQ Is First Quantum Startup to Go Public; Will It be First to Deliver Profits?

November 3, 2021

On October 1 of this year, IonQ became the first pure-play quantum computing start-up to go public. At this writing, the stock (NYSE: IONQ) was around $15 and its market capitalization was roughly $2.89 billion. Co-founder and chief scientist Chris Monroe says it was fun to have a few of the company’s roughly 100 employees travel to New York to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock... Read more…

US Closes in on Exascale: Frontier Installation Is Underway

September 29, 2021

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, held by Zoom this week (Sept. 29-30), it was revealed that the Frontier supercomputer is currently being installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The staff at the Oak Ridge Leadership... Read more…

AMD Launches Milan-X CPU with 3D V-Cache and Multichip Instinct MI200 GPU

November 8, 2021

At a virtual event this morning, AMD CEO Lisa Su unveiled the company’s latest and much-anticipated server products: the new Milan-X CPU, which leverages AMD’s new 3D V-Cache technology; and its new Instinct MI200 GPU, which provides up to 220 compute units across two Infinity Fabric-connected dies, delivering an astounding 47.9 peak double-precision teraflops. “We're in a high-performance computing megacycle, driven by the growing need to deploy additional compute performance... Read more…

Intel Reorgs HPC Group, Creates Two ‘Super Compute’ Groups

October 15, 2021

Following on changes made in June that moved Intel’s HPC unit out of the Data Platform Group and into the newly created Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) business unit, led by Raja Koduri, Intel is making further updates to the HPC group and announcing... Read more…

Nvidia Buys HPC Cluster Management Company Bright Computing

January 10, 2022

Graphics chip powerhouse Nvidia today announced that it has acquired HPC cluster management company Bright Computing for an undisclosed sum. Unlike Nvidia’s bid to purchase semiconductor IP company Arm, which has been stymied by regulatory challenges, the Bright deal is a straightforward acquisition that aims to expand... Read more…

D-Wave Embraces Gate-Based Quantum Computing; Charts Path Forward

October 21, 2021

Earlier this month D-Wave Systems, the quantum computing pioneer that has long championed quantum annealing-based quantum computing (and sometimes taken heat fo Read more…

Killer Instinct: AMD’s Multi-Chip MI200 GPU Readies for a Major Global Debut

October 21, 2021

AMD’s next-generation supercomputer GPU is on its way – and by all appearances, it’s about to make a name for itself. The AMD Radeon Instinct MI200 GPU (a successor to the MI100) will, over the next year, begin to power three massive systems on three continents: the United States’ exascale Frontier system; the European Union’s pre-exascale LUMI system; and Australia’s petascale Setonix system. Read more…

Three Chinese Exascale Systems Detailed at SC21: Two Operational and One Delayed

November 24, 2021

Details about two previously rumored Chinese exascale systems came to light during last week’s SC21 proceedings. Asked about these systems during the Top500 media briefing on Monday, Nov. 15, list author and co-founder Jack Dongarra indicated he was aware of some very impressive results, but withheld comment when asked directly if he had... Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

The Latest MLPerf Inference Results: Nvidia GPUs Hold Sway but Here Come CPUs and Intel

September 22, 2021

The latest round of MLPerf inference benchmark (v 1.1) results was released today and Nvidia again dominated, sweeping the top spots in the closed (apples-to-ap Read more…

Lessons from LLVM: An SC21 Fireside Chat with Chris Lattner

December 27, 2021

Today, the LLVM compiler infrastructure world is essentially inescapable in HPC. But back in the 2000 timeframe, LLVM (low level virtual machine) was just getting its start as a new way of thinking about how to overcome shortcomings in the Java Virtual Machine. At the time, Chris Lattner was a graduate student of... Read more…

2021 Gordon Bell Prize Goes to Exascale-Powered Quantum Supremacy Challenge

November 18, 2021

Today at the hybrid virtual/in-person SC21 conference, the organizers announced the winners of the 2021 ACM Gordon Bell Prize: a team of Chinese researchers leveraging the new exascale Sunway system to simulate quantum circuits. The Gordon Bell Prize, which comes with an award of $10,000 courtesy of HPC pioneer Gordon Bell, is awarded annually... Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

Three Universities Team for NSF-Funded ‘ACES’ Reconfigurable Supercomputer Prototype

September 23, 2021

As Moore’s law slows, HPC developers are increasingly looking for speed gains in specialized code and specialized hardware – but this specialization, in turn, can make testing and deploying code trickier than ever. Now, researchers from Texas A&M University, the University of Illinois at Urbana... Read more…

Top500: No Exascale, Fugaku Still Reigns, Polaris Debuts at #12

November 15, 2021

No exascale for you* -- at least, not within the High-Performance Linpack (HPL) territory of the latest Top500 list, issued today from the 33rd annual Supercomputing Conference (SC21), held in-person in St. Louis, Mo., and virtually, from Nov. 14–19. "We were hoping to have the first exascale system on this list but that didn’t happen," said Top500 co-author... Read more…

TACC Unveils Lonestar6 Supercomputer

November 1, 2021

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is unveiling its latest supercomputer: Lonestar6, a three peak petaflops Dell system aimed at supporting researchers Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire