U.S. Gov’t Blocks Sales to Russian Supercomputer Maker

Supercomputers are sometimes used in nuclear-weapons research, a point of contention when it comes to trading and selling parts.

T-Platforms, which manufactured the fastest supercomputer in Russia (and twenty-sixth fastest in the world), has been placed on the IT equivalent of the no-fly list.

In March, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security added T-Platforms’ businesses in Germany, Russia and Taiwan to the “Entity List,” which includes those believed to be acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.

U.S. IT companies are essentially banned from doing business with T-Platforms, especially with regards to HPC hardware such as microprocessors, which could be used for what the government views as illegal purposes. The rule, discovered by HPCWire, was published in March.

The U.S. government allows free trade between U.S. companies and other nations—except when the products themselves could serve a “dual use,” most notably in assisting another country’s military against the United States. Rules exist governing both encryption products as well as high-performance computing. In the case of HPC, the licensing rules differ depending whether the country of export is in a “Computer Tier 1,” such as the United Kingdom, or the more sensitive Tier 3, which covers China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, as well as Israel and Afghanistan.

According to the rule, Commerce’s End-User Review Committee (ERC) believes that T-Platforms may be assisting the Russian government and military conduct nuclear research—which, given historical tensions between the two countries, apparently falls outside the bounds of permitted use.

“The ERC has reasonable cause to believe that the one person being listed under three separate entries, T-Platforms, a company headquartered in Russia, has been listed as the ultimate consignee on multiple automated export system (AES) records filed for the export of dual-use items controlled for national security reasons but shipped without the required licenses,” states the rule. “Further, the ERC has reason to believe that T-Platforms is associated with military procurement activities, including the development of computer systems for military end-users and the production of computers for nuclear research. T-Platforms has locations in Germany and Taiwan that are engaged in the same types of activities of concern.

The rule added: “Based on T-Platforms’ activities, including those of its locations in Germany and Taiwan, the ERC determined that it is engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and poses a high risk of involvement in violations of the EAR.”

An email address that T-Platforms listed for its German office bounced, and Slashdot was unable to reach executives at its Russian headquarters for comment.

T-Platforms built the Lomonosov supercomputer, a 901-teraflop supercomputer combining Intel Xeon hardware and Nvidia GPUs, and commissioned by Moscow State University’s research center. In June 2011, it was the 13th most powerful HPC system; it has since fallen to the 26th position.

The rule means that unless the company successfully appeals, the company will have a difficult time obtaining systems directly from American manufacturers—although T-Platforms could turn to the channel or, at worse, the gray market. But legally it faces an uphill battle. The ERC makes all decisions over whether to add an entry to the Entity List by majority vote, and all decisions to remove or modify an entry by unanimous vote.

 

Image: Joel Berg/Shutterstock.com

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