New Japanese Supercomputing Project Targets Exascale

By Tiffany Trader

March 14, 2017

Supercomputing in Japan is on a roll, pushed by AI synergies. In the span of just a few weeks, HPE and Fujitsu have both been tapped to provide Pascal GPU-based deep learning supercomputers to Japanese research institutions (Tokyo Institute of Technology and RIKEN, respectively).

Japan is also a front-runner in the race for exascale; the nation has promised to stand up its first exascale machine, “Post-K” by early 2022. Post-K is the successor to the K computer, Japan’s current reigning number-cruncher, and will be some 100 times faster.

Japan News this week revealed that another supercomputing project is also in the works, this one from emerging supercomputer maker ExaScaler Inc. and Keio University. Under the direction of ExaScaler CEO Dr. Motoaki Saito, the partners are developing an original supercomputer design with exascale aspirations.

Dr. Saito is the founder of three HPC companies, each targeting a key aspect of extreme-scale supercomputing:

1. PEZY Computing Co. Ltd. which is developing a manycore processor.

2. ExaScaler Inc., focused on highly-efficient liquid-cooling.

3. Ultra Memory, Inc., developing a 3D multi-layer memory system (see patent info).

PEZY and ExaScaler built one of the world’s most energy-efficient supercomputers, Shoubu, which held the number one spot on the Green500 for three iterations of the bi-annual list (June 2015, November 2015 and June 2016). With a rating of 6.67 gigaflops-per-watt, Shoubu is currently number three on the most recent listing (having been surpassed by two Pascal GPU-powered machines). Installed at RIKEN, Shoubu is based on the companies’ ZettaScaler-1.6 architecture. ZettaScaler-2.0 is due out in 2017.

All three companies (PEZY, Exascaler, and Ultra Memory) are in joint collaboration to develop a supercomputer system with exascale chops. The new supercomputer will be outfitted with a high-capacity, low-power 3D integrated circuit (IC) developed by Keio University Professor Tadahiro Kuroda. ExaScaler will supply its liquid carbon fluoride cooling technology.

Japan News reports that the approach enables the supercomputer to be downsized to about one meter wide by one meter long. The intention is to connect 18 of these boxes to create a 24 petaflops system (we’re confirming precision level) for installation at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology’s Yokohama Institute for Earth Sciences.

According to Japan News, “the corporate-academic project team aims to achieve the fastest computing speed in Japan by June, which would make the computer the third-fastest in the world.”

The team’s aspirations also extend to creating the fastest supercomputer in the world, which entails surpassing China’s 93-petaflops Sunway TaihuLight and fending off a number of exascale-focused projects, but more funding will required to achieve that goal.

The project is supported by Japan Science and Technology Agency agency (JST), an independent public body of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). We don’t know exact funding levels, but JST provides up to ¥5 billion for promising technologies. So far, the Japanese government (via MEXT’s Flagship 2020 project) has dedicated  ¥110 billion to the post-K project.

“There may be some challenges along the way, but [the ExaScaler/Keio University system] has the potential to become excellent technology in terms of both power consumption and price,” said RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science team leader Junichiro Makino. “These developments may have a revolutionary impact on next-generation supercomputers.”

Japan was one of the first world supercomputing powers, going neck and neck with the US for TOP500 glory since the early days of that list. The nation is home to supercomputing stalwarts like Fujitsu and NEC, and has a strong relationship with SGI Japan (now part of HPE). Its current fastest supercomputer is the K computer, which debuted on the TOP500 list at number one in 2011; it is now in seventh position, capable of 10.5 Linpack petaflops.

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