The Esoteric, Other-Worldy Supercomputer Race

The competition to build "the world’s fastest computer" is never ending, and it’s evolved into a sort of 21st-century arms race, with countries crowing about their latest advances. Once dominated by the U.S., this battle for bragging rights has now engaged China. InformationWeek is reporting that at least 10 Chinese supercomputer projects are currently underway. When China goes big, it goes really big.

The current box score:

Earlier this month, China nabbed the No.2 slot in global supercomputing. The system, which clocks in at 1.271 petaflops – or 1,271 trillion calculations – per second is second only to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Jaguar in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1.75 petaflops). Called Nebulae, it was created by a young band of Chinese engineers that are mostly in their 20s, according to Li Jun, president of Dawning, the company that owns the computer.

Of course, most of us will never have to deal with petaflops in our own little data centers, but they’re certainly interesting to read about. What’s even more interesting to learn is that the Chinese are eager to build their upcoming wave of super number crunchers with local components. No more Intel inside. "Officials are now saying they want to replace the Intel processors at the core of their supercomputers with those from a Beijing company called BLX IC Design Corp. The company is the maker of the Godson (aka Loongson) CPU, which is based on the MIPS instruction set and considered China¿s best effort at designing a CPU to date."

China is the third largest market for servers, so the theory is that all of this super-amazing technology will trickle down into the more mundane world of everyday business. If it does, server providers such as HP, Dell, and IBM may see their China market dwindle.

For more about supercomputers in the real world, check out this fascinating New York Times article about IBM’s new Watson supercomputer and its ability to play Jeopardy really really well.

Don Willmott

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