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August 19, 2014

Supercomputing Makes for Smarter Chinese Cities

Tiffany Trader
tianhe-1a graphic 500x

Home to some of the world’s fastest supercomputers, China is looking to apply that computing power to solve issues that are important to its populace. On Monday, a Chinese researcher revealed a plan to use China’s Tianhe-1A system toward the construction of new “smart cities.”

Taking an interdisciplinary approach to the challenges of urban planning, smart cities emphasize the intelligent use of resources and services, resulting in improved service delivery and better quality of life. Smart cities are often defined by their ability to use information and communication technologies to solve economic, social and/or environmental challenges.

“The Tianhe-1A can digitize the planning, designing, construction and property management of buildings in a city,” Meng Xiangfei, head of the applications department of the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, told China Daily.

The article in the Chinese newspaper went to explain that sophisticated design software is able to optimize the urban planning process by modeling the cost and benefits of different materials, such as cement and steel. This kind of big data modeling can reduce the cost of a subway construction project by 10 to 20 percent according to Meng. The researcher adds that the supercomputer has already been used in underground construction projects.

Once the world’s fastest system when it debuted in 2010, Tianhe-1A is currently number fourteen on the TOP500 – with a 2.56-petaflops LINPACK score and a 4.7-petaflops peak. The supercomputer combines 14,336 Xeon X5670 processors and 7,168 NVIDIA Tesla M2050 GPUs. An additional 2,048 FeiTeng 1000 SPARC-based processors are also installed in the system, but their power was not used for LINPACK benchmarks. The main technological achievement of the system is the proprietary high-speed interconnect, called Arch, which was developed by Chinese researchers and runs twice as fast as the InfiniBand standard.

The supercomputer cost $88 million to build and is installed at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin.

China’s central government has made development of smart city technology a core national policy. One goal of the policy is addressing the nation’s serious air pollution problem. In July, the Chinese government signed a 10-year agreement with IBM as part of the “Green Horizon” initiative. The effort will employ sophisticated analytics and big data techniques to boost renewable energy and improve energy utilization. Program scientists plan to create real-time maps at street-scale to model the dispersion of pollutants across Beijing.

“This project will provide Beijing with a much better understanding of how pollution is produced and spread across the city, so the government can address it more effectively,” Tao Wang, resident scholar in the Energy and Climate Program at Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, told Baseline Magazine.

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