Until very recently the fastest supercomputer in the world belonged to China. It has now been replaced by the Sunway TaihuLight – also from China. In fifteen years China has gone from having zero supercomputers in the top 500 to having more than any other country.
Oh, and the TaihuLight uses chips made solely in China.
It will be 2018 before anything faster comes online in the United States, by which time, of course, China will in all likelihood have made further huge strides ahead. China’s latest effort is five times faster than anything else on the planet.
Not that this should all be about national pride or power – such advancements should benefit everyone – but some in the US are getting concerned.
“Massive domestic gains in computing power are necessary to address the national security, scientific, and healthcare challenges of the future,” said Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Republican from Illinois whose American Super Computing Leadership Act has twice been passed by the House of Representatives. “It is increasingly evident that America is losing our lead.”
What will the supercomputer be used for?
For those happy to revel in China’s success, the figures are staggering.
The TaihuLight boasts a theoretical peak performance of 125 petaflops, 10,649,600 cores, and 1.31 petabytes of primary memory.
In comparison, a MacBook uses four cores and Mira, the sixth fastest computer in the world, harnesses just under 800,000.
“At one level they’re not very different from your desktop system,” said Michael Papka, director of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility where Mira resides. “They have a processor that looks very similar to the one in a laptop or desktop system—there’s just a lot of them connected together.”
As for the software, “You can use a factory as an example,” explained Papka. “A lot of people are working on putting a car together at the same time, but they’re all working in a coordinated manner. People who write programs for supercomputers have to get all of the pieces working together.”
And plenty of those very talented people are naturally interested in contributing to China’s new baby. Three of the six finalists for a prestigious high-performance computing award are applications built to run on TaihuLight.
So what will the incredible supercomputer be used for (other than putting the rest of the world to shame)?
According to TaihuLight’s stewards, advanced manufacturing, Earth-system modeling and weather forecasting, life science, and big data analytics will be major goals.
“Each time we make an increase, we can add more science to the problem,” Papka believes. “For the foreseeable future, until we can model the real world on a quark-for-quark basis, we’ll need more powerful computers.”
Image credit: Sunway Taihulight System