Chinese Supercomputer Likely to Prompt Unease in U.S.

Discussion in 'China' started by redragon, Oct 29, 2010.

  1. redragon

    redragon Regular Member

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    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100...579070132492654.html?mod=WSJ_Tech_LEFTTopNews

    By DON CLARK
    A newly built supercomputer in China appears poised to take the world performance lead, another sign of the country's growing technological prowess that is likely to set off alarms about U.S. competitiveness and national security.

    The system was designed by China's National University of Defense Technology and is housed at the National Supercomputing Center in the city of Tianjin. It is part of a new breed that exploits graphics chips more commonly used in playing videogames—supplied by Nvidia Corp.—as well as standard microprocessors from Intel Corp.


    Supercomputers are massive machines that help tackle the toughest scientific problems, including simulating commercial products like new drugs as well as defense-related applications such as weapons design and breaking codes. The field has long been led by U.S. technology companies and national laboratories, which operate systems that have consistently topped lists of the fastest machines in the world.

    But Nvidia says the new system in Tianjin—which is being formally announced Thursday at an event in China—was able to reach 2.5 petaflops. That is a measure of calculating speed ordinarily translated into a thousand trillion operations per second. It is more than 40% higher than the mark set last June by a system called Jaguar at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that previously stood at No. 1 on a twice-yearly ranking of the 500 fastest supercomputers.

    "I don't know of another system that is going to be anywhere near the performance and the power of this machine" in China, said Jack Dongarra, a supercomputer expert on the Oak Ridge research staff who is a professor at the University of Tennessee and recently inspected the system in Tianjin last week. "It is quite impressive."

    The development was not altogether unexpected. China placed 24 systems in the so-called Top 500 supercomputer ranking last June; a system called Nebulae, for example, took second place that also used chips from Nvidia and Intel.


    But Mr. Dongarra and other researchers said the machine should nevertheless serve as a wake-up call that China is threatening to take the lead in scientific computing—akin to a machine from Japan that took the No. 1 position early in the past decade and triggered increased U.S. investment in the field.

    "It's definitely a game-changer in the high performance market," said Mark Seager, chief technology officer for computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "This is a phase transition, representative of the shift of economic competitiveness from the West to the East."

    Nearly all components of the high-profile Japanese system, called the Earth Simulator, were created in Japan. By contrast, most of the Tianjin system relies on chips from Intel and Nvidia, which are both based in Santa Clara, Calif. So U.S. customers could presumably construct a system with similar performance, noted Horst Simon, deputy lab director at Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

    But Mr. Dongarra noted that communications chips inside the machine were proprietary and designed in China, and the country is also working on its own microprocessors.


    Moreover, while the Japanese system was a single machine, Tianjin is part of a multi-year strategy by China to develop a range of machines to create a dominant position in both military and commercial applications. "In that sense, I would say this is a much more important event than the Earth Simulator," Mr. Simon said.

    The new supercomputer will be operated as an "open access" system, available to other countries outside of China to use for large scale scientific computation, said Ujesh Desai, an Nvidia vice president of product marketing.

    It reflects a major design shift to use graphics chips to help accelerate the number-crunching functions most often carried out by so-called x86 chips, which evolved from personal computers and have long dominated supercomputing. Advanced Micro Devices, which makes both graphics chips and x86 microprocessors, is another company besides Nvidia that is promoting the technology shift.

    Redragon:
    The real good news is china is building supercomputers based on Chinese CPU: Loongson.
     
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  3. badguy2000

    badguy2000 Respected Member Senior Member

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    well, take it easy....all are propaganda from CCP.....just like J10,DF31,JL2, spaceships,mid-course missle interception,subs and ...etc, all are doomed to be failures....because all "made in China" are low quality crappy.
     
  4. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

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    Why unease for US?. If US wants it can build even powerful supercomputer. The point is does US need such powerful computers ?. Organ measuring contest as to who has the most powerful supercomputer doesn't take any country anywhere.
     
  5. nimo_cn

    nimo_cn Senior Member Senior Member

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    That is a pretty neutral report from wsj.

    I read a masterpiece related to this from NYTimes yesterday. I was more amused by the sour grapes implicated in that article than by the news itself.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/28/technology/28compute.html?scp=1&sq=supercomputer&st=cse

    It seems this achievement is indeed worth celebrating.
     
  6. nimo_cn

    nimo_cn Senior Member Senior Member

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    No one is disputing the powerful ability of US. Surely they can build a much more powerful one.

    It is the American who is overreacting, not us. So take it easy.
     
  7. badguy2000

    badguy2000 Respected Member Senior Member

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    well, it is very nice to see that somebody starts to say" does US need such powerful computers ?"!

    I hope that efforts of China can cause more and more "does US need such powerful XX" or "does US need such advanced XX"
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2010
  8. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    Congratulations China. Hope to see Asia sweep top 5 Supercomputer list soon.
     
  9. badguy2000

    badguy2000 Respected Member Senior Member

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    Top 5 would be all "made in CHina" soon, I think.
     
  10. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    China eyes 'dual-use' supercomputers

    By Matthew Luce

    As of November 15, the world's fastest supercomputer officially belongs to China, according to the most recent listing of the world's Top 500 computers. China has pushed the United States out of the top spot as well as putting a third machine into the top ten, providing another indicator of China's rise as a world technological power. Yet this year's results should come as a surprise to no one.

    China has been pouring investments into high performance computing for the last decade and gradually edging the United States out of the top ten. Increased funding and an official policy commitment have propelled China from a technological backwater that in 2001 did not have a single machine in the Top 500 into a supercomputing superpower.

    Supercomputers, or high-performance computers, are an enabling technology that opens up a wide range of research frontiers previously closed to Chinese institutions, not least in defense applications. They are an increasingly important tool in intelligence as well as weapons design, and a crucial link in any national innovation chain.

    China emphasizes the civilian applications of its supercomputers, but a quick glance at China's history and research and development (R&D) architecture would indicate that they will see significant military use. At the same time, while China's triumph in supercomputing is a milestone, it should not be seen as a signal that China has exceeded the innovative power of the West, but rather as a launch pad for further technological development.

    A dual-use technology
    By devoting national R&D resources to developing domestic supercomputing capabilities, the Chinese government is betting on a return on its investment in the form of heightened R&D capabilities in a wide range of fields. Heightened commercial and civilian research capabilities are certainly among the payoffs of building such a powerful computer, but China's military will certainly benefit greatly as well.

    Supercomputers can be put to work on one complex problem or multiple decentralized ones, but it stands to reason that they are usually employed for issues that require the quadrillions of calculations per second that they are capable of. The complex mathematical analysis involved in cryptanalysis and sensor signal processing today are problems that can only be tackled practically by computers with these "super" capabilities. China's efforts to develop a secure satellite communications network as well as data fusion systems for missile tracking are critically dependent on a capability to process encrypted data at a very high rate of calculations per second.

    While China's newest and fastest supercomputer is ostensibly for civilian research, it is highly significant that it was built by the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), China's premier military technology university and one of its top research centers. The bulk of the world's supercomputer processing power and most likely China's as well is devoted to commercial and academic research, but any modernizing military like China's also has an increasing need for supercomputing capabilities.

    In the 1990s China was accused of diverting supposedly civilian supercomputers purchased from the United States for military ends, so it would not be the first time China used the fig leaf of "civilian usage" to mask military supercomputing programs. At NUDT, supercomputer development labs like the National Key Lab for Parallel and Distributed Processing operate on the same campus as the respective National Key Labs for C4ISR and Automatic Target Recognition. These are the very same kinds of research facilities that would be expected to have need for supercomputers to support their work.

    Additionally, supercomputers provide indispensable services for a nation in the process of modernizing its nuclear and conventional armament. Since all nuclear test explosions are precluded under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), nuclear blast modeling can be performed only by large computers. Missile, jet engine, and conventional explosive design and modeling are also increasingly done using supercomputers. With a much improved supercomputer arsenal, China also has an increased capability for the R&D necessary to bring its armed forces into the 21st century.

    China's possession of supercomputer technology may also constitute a proliferation risk. As a result of their military applications and in particular their cryptanalytic functions, much of the technology in a supercomputer is defined as "dual-use" according to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls.

    Supercomputers can be compared to any dual-use technology like a rocket engine or a nuclear reactor: they can be used for commercial civilian projects or they can be used to produce weapons. Since the People's Republic of China is the only major supercomputing power that is not a signatory of the Wassenaar Arrangement, there is an elevated risk that supercomputers could be sold to rogue states to assist their nuclear programs.

    Popular misperceptions
    China now has the most powerful computer in the world, but that does not mean that their ability to innovate has eclipsed that of the United States, nor does it mean that China has a military or intelligence collection advantage. The ascent of the Chinese to the number one spot is based more upon political will to invest in technology than any significant indigenous technological breakthrough.

    Building a more powerful computer is accomplished today by linking together an incrementally larger cluster of processors and writing software that allows them to operate together, rather than (in most cases) designing a new and groundbreaking computing technology. The cost to build a top supercomputer has also dropped precipitously in the past 10 years, meaning that the Chinese had to invest a relatively smaller sum compared to the amount spent by US institutions to develop top supercomputers just ten years ago.

    This is not to say that China's newest and most powerful supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A (which translates as "Milky Way") is not innovative. It combines its CPUs (central processing units) with GPUs (graphics processing units) to increase performance, consumes significantly less energy than its peers in the United States, and possesses a Chinese-designed interconnect chip and software that links the cluster together.

    The system also contains 2048 Chinese-made Galaxy FT-1000 processors with an undisclosed purpose, likely as a memory controller/synchronizer to boost the speed of the system. The bulk of its hardware, however, is still designed by Intel and NVIDIA, which are both based in California. This means that while Chinese labs may be working hard to produce entirely indigenous supercomputer systems, they currently still rely on foreign imports.

    Just having a faster machine does not in itself provide any advantage for Chinese researchers either. In some sense building the Tianhe-1A only provides China with a showy muscle car: it might be able to go from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h or 0 to 27 m/s) in 3 seconds, but that doesn't provide much added utility if the owner is only using it to drive to work. The real test of innovative ability will be in designing specific applications for the computer's power so that it does not lie idle for most of the day. Building such a large cluster will also be a waste if it is used for decentralized or cloud computing instead of concentrating on a few very large and knotty problems, since smaller and cheaper computer systems could be used for easier tasks.

    China's supercomputer dominance cannot then be taken as a signal of US technological inferiority. If US researchers and policymakers are to take any lesson from the November 2010 Top 500 listing, it is that the playing field has been leveled. By investing heavily in high performance computing and making it a feature of the 11th 5-year Plan for Technology, Beijing has proved that it is serious about its goals for high performance computing and is willing to devote the necessary resources for research and development. China's supercomputing research labs may not be superior to similar facilities in the United States, but they currently enjoy generous funding and directives from central planners to develop faster machines.

    Now that China has demonstrated its commitment and ability to build faster machines, it seems likely that the United States will respond to the challenge. After Japan's surprise coup for the fastest computer, which lasted from 2002-2004, the US responded with an increase in research funding for supercomputer projects and managed to push Japan entirely out of the top 10 by 2007.

    Today US institutions have the capability to build faster machines, but according to Jack Dongarra, the computer scientist at Oak Ridge Labs and the University of Tennessee who oversees the judging of the Top 500, "it's a question of will." According to an October 2010 report by the National Center for Computational Sciences, two new supercomputers, each capable of more than 20 petaflops, are respectively under construction at Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Labs, but the systems will not be operational until 2012 and few details are available as to their systems.

    Conclusions
    This new wave of Chinese supercomputers has the potential to give Chinese research institutions a leg up on the United States in terms of future defense and commercial technological innovation, but the real test will be in software and applications that may still be in development. A fast computer is a trove of research potential, but if it lies untapped then the placement of a Chinese machine into the number one spot will be nothing more than flag-waving.

    Nevertheless, Chinese defense technology research labs now have the means, motive, and opportunity to take advantage of high performance computing resources. China's conventional and nuclear weapons design programs as well as its intelligence and signal processing architecture have already progressed to the stage where they can make efficient use of a growing supply of supercomputers. Access to machines like the Tianhe-1A thus opens up new horizons for Chinese defense researchers and cryptographers, and chips away at the technological and military advantages of the United States.

    Observers will have to come to terms with the fact that this is not a fluke or a one-time effort to build a single machine and briefly upstage the Americans. While American computing labs may be able to recover their lead in a few years, this year's display of Chinese supercomputing power is only the latest technology being churned out by Chinese research labs in a concerted push to become a leading global innovator.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2010

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