In the race to build the world’s fastest supercomputer, no machine is allowed an unobstructed shot at the top of the list: days after the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory launched Titan, a supercomputer capable of a 27-petaflop peak output, China’s Guangzhou Supercomputing Center announced the development of a Tianhe-2 supercomputer theoretically capable of 100 petaflops.
If all goes according to plan, the Tianhe-2 will launch in 2015. “Taking the top spot in the world’s fastest supercomputers gave us a lot of drive, and gave us more confidence to develop better machines,” Zhang Yunquan, a professor at the Institute of Software Chinese Academy of Sciences, told IDG News Service Oct. 31.
According to the news service, the Chinese government wants its supercomputers to exceed 1 exaflop, or 1,000 petaflops, by 2018. But in shooting for that goal, it’ll have to compete with other countries, including the United States, with the exact same aim. One of China’s biggest geopolitical rivals, India, is developing a roadmap to build the world’s fastest supercomputer by 2017.
The Department of Energy’s “Sequoia” supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. is considered the world’s most powerful. (The Top500 list, published twice a year, is considered the authoritative ranking of the world’s supercomputers.) Sequoia uses 16-core, 1.6-GHz POWER BQC chips, the same that power the DOE’s Mira Supercomputer at the Argonne National Laboratory, which ranks third on the Top500 list.
The second supercomputer on the Top500 list is Fujitsu’s “K Computer,” installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Kobe, Japan.
The DOE uses Sequoia to simulate nuclear weapons tests, specifically how materials will react at extreme pressures and temperatures. That allows U.S. experts to effectively anticipate potential issues with the nation’s weapons stockpile as it continues it age, without having to actually engage in any treaty-breaking nuclear tests.
Among supercomputer builders, IBM maintains a lead in overall systems (213 on the most recent Top500 list, or 42.6 percent), followed by Hewlett-Packard with 138 systems (27.6 percent), Cray with 5.4 percent, Appro with 3.6 percent and SGI and Bull tied with 3.2 percent each.
Image: Jacqueline McBride/LLNL