China’s Exascale Ambitions

By Tiffany Trader

October 11, 2013

“Beware the sleeping dragon. For when she awakes the Earth will shake.”

— Winston Churchill, speaking about China

For two decades, TOP500.org has published a biannual list of the world’s fastest computing machines. For the first 17 years, the competition for the number one spot was a back-and-forth match between the United States and Japan. But in November 2010, China cracked the coveted pole position with the Tianhe-1A supercomputer.

tianhe-2-dongarra-465x

Tianhe-1, which translates into Milky Way, was developed by the Chinese National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) in Changsha, Hunan. When it was unveiled in October 2009, it was immediately ranked as the world’s fifth fastest supercomputer in the TOP500 list released at SC09. The upgraded Tianhe 1-A, equipped with 14,336 Xeon processors and 7,168 NVIDIA Tesla GPUs, brought the machine’s top LINPACK speed from 563 teraflops to 2.56 petaflops. The boost rocketed the system to the number one spot in November 2010, beating out the University of Tennessee’s Jaguar supercomputer and giving China bragging rights as a technology superpower. It was the first time that a non-US system held the number one spot in six years.

The US came back again in June 2012 with the IBM Sequoia Blue Gene/Q, which had a LINPACK performance of 16.32 petaflops. In November 2012, the title changed hands again, claimed by an upgraded Jaguar – renamed Titan and packing 17.59 petaflops LINPACK. Despite the impressive benchmark, Titan’s reign was short-lived. Seven months later, in June 2013, China reestablished list dominance with its upgraded system, Tianhe-2. With a remarkable 33.86 petaflops LINPACK, the Chinese system beat out second place finisher Titan by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

China’s Tianhe-2 remains the fastest supercomputer in the world. What’s more, the Tianhe-2 project is two years ahead of schedule. The supercomputer was originally scheduled to be completed in 2015, but the latest reports say that it is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2013.

Consider the technical specifications of this phenomenal computing machine: 16,000 computer nodes, each comprising two Intel Ivy Bridge Xeon processors and three Xeon Phi coprocessors for a total of 3,100,000 cores; 1.4 petabytes of RAM; and a proprietary high-speed interconnect, called TH Express-2, that was designed by NUDT. Tianhe-2 has a maximum power draw of 17.6 megawatts, with an additional 24 megawatts allocated for cooling.

A recent Guardian article explores what China’s still-emerging supercomputing prowess tells us about the country’s absorptive state. The United States is still the world’s leading supercomputer power with 252 top 500 systems, but China is catching up – with 66 of the top 500 supercomputers. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers asserts that Tianhe-2’s win “symbolizes China’s unflinching commitment to the supercomputing arms race.”

The race to build the first exascale supercomputer is still in progress and the US, EU, Japan, India, Russia and China have all expressed their intentions to reach this goal. But most experts, according to the Guardian piece, say the odds are in China’s favor. It’s been two years since Obama called on Americans to come together for “our generation’s Sputnik moment” during his 2011 State of the Union address, but the response from funding bodies has been lackluster. An exascale plan was only recently submitted to Congress and no new funds have been granted yet.

China by contrast has maintained a targeted investment strategy, spending approximately $163 billion USD on R&D in 2012. Since 2008, it has increased funding by 18 percent each year at the same time as other countries’ budgets were flatlining.

Even though China can claim the leading system, it has had to rely on US technology to do so. This is a key point of the Guardian article, which was penned by James Wilsdon, professor of science and democracy at the University of Sussex; Kirsten Bound, head of international innovation at the independent UK charity Nesta; and Tom Saunders, a policy and research analyst at Nesta.

“In one sense, Tianhe-2 is an achievement that the Americans should be every bit as proud of as the Chinese,” write the authors. But China is hard at work designing and manufacturing its own technologies and most experts agree that it won’t be long before China produces its first 100 percent home-grown supercomputer.

China is particularly adept at absorbing, adapting and improving on foreign-developed technologies. Supercomputing is one of the main sectors this kind of absorptive process is taking place, but it’s also occurred in other high-profile cases, for example high-speed rail network, advanced nuclear reactors and space exploration.

Note the authors: “These examples suggest that what China’s President Xi Jinping has termed ‘innovation with Chinese characteristics’ will not be a straightforward path from imported to home-grown innovation, but a messier process in which the lines between Chinese and non-Chinese ideas, technologies and capabilities are harder to draw.”

The Nesta report, China’s Absorptive State: research, innovation and the prospects for China-UK collaboration, will be available next week, scheduled to coincide with the first high-level UK government delegation to Beijing for over a year.

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!

Scientists Conduct First Quantum Simulation of Atomic Nucleus

May 23, 2018

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 23, 2018—Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are the first to successfully simulate an atomic nucleus using a quantum computer. The results, published in Ph Read more…

By Rachel Harken, ORNL

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Francisco, one would be tempted to dismiss its claims of inventing Read more…

By John Russell

Intel, Micro Debut Quad-Level Cell NAND Flash

May 22, 2018

Chipmakers continue to gear designs toward AI and other demanding cloud workloads that take advantage of datacenter flash storage capacity. To that end, memory specialist Micron Technology Inc. began shipping compact sol Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combined peak computing capacity, the new systems will extend the a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Franci Read more…

By John Russell

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

PRACE 2017 Annual Report: Exascale Aspirations; Industry Collaboration; HPC Training

May 15, 2018

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) today released its annual report showcasing 2017 activities and providing a glimpse into thinking about Read more…

By John Russell

US Forms AI Brain Trust

May 11, 2018

Amid calls for a U.S. strategy for promoting AI development, the Trump administration is forming a senior-level panel to help coordinate government and industry research efforts. The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was announced Thursday (May 10) during a White House summit organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Read more…

By George Leopold

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This