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China: two 100 Petaflop machines within a year

Within the next 12 months, China expects to be operating not one but two 100 Petaflop computers, one using a Chinese RISC-based processor and the other using a Chinese accelerator. Both will come on stream about a year before the United States’ 100 Petaflop machines being developed under the Coral initiative.

A full analysis of China’s supercomputing development effort, and of the export plans by its commercial HPC vendors, is reported in the August/September issue of Scientific Computing World, together with an exclusive interview with Professor Yutong Lu, the deputy designer of the world’s fastest supercomputer, in which she extends a warm invitation to scientists from other countries to use the Tianhe-2 to pursue their research in collaboration with Chinese scientists and HPC specialists.

Ironically, the RISC processor being developed within China appears very similar to a technology abandoned by the USA in 2007. On the other hand, China has been virtually forced to develop its own accelerator rather than buying US-manufactured components because of a US Government embargo on exporting equipment for use in the Tianhe-2.

As already reported on this website, in a separate move to acquire mastery of microprocessor technologies, China’s state owned Tsinghua Unigroup has made a bid to acquire US semiconductor manufacturer Micron Technology for $23 billion, in what could be one of the biggest acquisitions of a US company by a Chinese firm.

Information in the public domain at the ISC High Performance Conference in Frankfurt in July suggested that China is developing a 100 Petaflop machine that will use its own CPU, designed in China. The computer is expected to start operating before the middle of next year. It is being developed by the Jiangnan Institute of Computer Technology in Wuxi, near Shanghai.

It will use a next-generation, Chinese designed and manufactured, ShenWei chip. A ShenWei processor, the SW1600, currently powers the Sunway BlueLight, which is already in operation at the National Supercomputer Centre in Jinan, and which ranked 86 in the Top500 published in July.

ShenWei is a RISC and not an x86 processor, so it requires its own instruction set. Both system and application software will have to be customised for it, thus making programming and use of the machine more complex.

If ShenWei processors are used in a 100 Petaflop machine within the next year, there will be an element of historical irony, for the design of the chip appears to resemble very closely that of the ‘Alpha’ RISC chip developed by the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and discontinued in 2007 by HP, which had inherited the technology through merger and acquisition.

Hitherto, international attention has focused on the Tianhe-2 computer developed by the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) and sited at the National Supercomputer Centre in Guangzhou, largely because it retained its position as the world’s No. 1 system for the fifth consecutive time when the most recent Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers was announced in the middle of July.

The second domestically designed chip will be the ‘China Accelerator’ that the National University of Defence Technology (NUDT) is developing for the Tianhe-2 supercomputer, as a result of the US embargo.

The interconnection topology for the Tianhe system is an optic-electronic hybrid. The NUDT had already created the interconnects, using high-radix Network Routing Chips (NRC) and high-speed Network Interface Chips (NIC), both of which were designed by Chinese engineers and are Chinese intellectual property.

Since the next-generation ShenWei will be based on its own CPU chip and the co-processors for Tianhe-2 are being developed at the NUDT, China will enter the 100 Petaflop era with its own CPU, accelerator, and interconnect technologies.

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