NEC’s New Wave of Japanese Vector Supercomputers

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 29, 2014

We’ve been covering the momentum in Japan toward exascale computing for some time, but amidst the noise, have also been watching steady progress in Japan’s overall supercomputing infrastructure. The next few years are likely to bring an influx of new entrants to the leading systems camp from Japan, a movement that will be spurred by more than just Fujitsu.

NEC currently has only three distinct systems on the most recent Top 500, including the #210 German “Emmy” machine, the A#311 Tsubame-KFC system at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and another Japanese site with the #411 Earth Simulator. They are partners with HP on the #11-ranked Tsubame 2.5 system, but this particular system is reliant on Proliant nodes versus NEC servers.

The number of Top 500-class systems from NEC hasn’t changed much in recent years. In 2010, for instance, the company still had three systems (two of which are still listed above) but at the time, the Earth Simulator stole the #55 spot. However, back in 1993 in the early days of the Top 500 list, the early incarnation of the SX vector architecture, the SX-3 took the 5 and 6 positions with the SX-3 architecture stealing 15% of the top 100 systems out of its 32 machine showing. The showcase system for the SX architecture (in this case, an SX-6-based machine) was the Earth Simulator. But it looks like NEC is planning new, more interesting research supers based on its latest refresh of the SX line.

Within the next couple of years, it’s possible that we will see a slightly more prominent place for the Japanese vendor as it steps up sales of its SX-ACE vector supercomputers (preceded by the SX-9), particularly in its home country. NEC described three new orders today for upcoming systems at the Cyberscience Center at Tohoku University, Osaka University, and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) in Tsukuba, Japan. All but the Tsukuba system will be delivered by the end of this year, with the NIES super appearing sometime around next June’s Top 500 list.

The SX-ACE was announced last year and was touted for its novel four-core, vector processor architecture, which ramped up the previous generations that span over a decade. Just for a quick historical diversion, it’s interesting to see where the architecture has beefed up since the early 1980s, particular in terms of what capabilities the latest generation might hold for the numerical simulation folks:


To dive into more detail on the latest SX-ACE beyond the historical improvements, it’s worth noting what the three Japanese systems will be getting in terms of performance for their range of targeted workloads. These include weather and climate modeling, fluid dynamics, nanotechnology and materials science and a range of other areas that are a good fit for this architecture (namely data-intensive applications, according to NEC).


As you can see from the graphic above, which highlights the capabilities of the SX-ACE, there’s some real horsepower cooked into a mere four cores. NEC has focused this new generation on efficiency and density, which coupled with their homegrown liquid and water cooling technology, will reportedly “reduce power consumption by 90%” and use 20% of the floor space of existing models when compared with the SX-9 that came before it. You can see in the historical improvements chart how this plays out in theory, but we’ll certainly stay tuned for energy benchmarks when these new Japanese systems are put into play.

NEC says the SX-10 will offer single-core performance of 64 GFlops and 64 GB/s of memory bandwidth per core, which according to the chart above, is around a 10x improvement on a per-rack level, adding up to a rack-level performance rnge somewhere around 16 teraflops with 16 TB/s of memory bandwidth. To get a sense of what the universities are set to install in Japan (and resulting capability) the Cyberscience Center at Tohoku University will be installing 40 racks (2560 nodes), allowing them theoretical peak performance above 700 teraflops.

Osaka University has ordered 24 racks of the SC-ACE (1536 nodes) for a peak performance around 423 terafops, which will operate in tandem with other systems at their Cybermedia Center (which also features a state of the art visualization system that will tap into the new SX-ACE). The environmental research center will be dipping a toe in the NEC vector water with a starter 384-node SX-ACE to complement their existing, smaller SX-9 computer that’s targeted at weather and climate modeling.

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