Supercompter ranking opens mainland doors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 November, 2010, 12:00am

Eight years since building its first supercomputer, China has opened new horizons for its industries - from creating a robust internet market to planning to put a man on the moon - as fast as the nation's appetite for high-performance computing systems has grown.

The latest ranking of markets with the world's fastest supercomputers, in which a Chinese-made system has now taken first place for the first time, confirms the mainland's big ambitions.

A group of researchers yesterday announced that the Tianhe-1A system, located at the National Supercomputer Centre in Tianjin, moved ahead of the previously top-ranked Cray XT5 'Jaguar' among the world's 500 fastest supercomputers.

The Jaguar is at the United States Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennessee.

The latest Top500 ranking shows the mainland has moved past Japan, France, Germany and Britain to become the second-largest market for supercomputers behind the US.

Another mainland-produced supercomputer, the 'Nebulae' at the National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen, was in third place, according to the Top500 project, a research initiative that has released semi-annual rankings of high-performance computers since June 1993.

Of the 42 ranked supercomputers in China, six were built by domestic computer manufacturers and government-backed researchers. That number is up from 24 in June.

Jack Dongarra, a member of the US National Academy of Engineering and a Top500 supervisor, told state media the high number of ranked systems on the mainland was 'a sign that China is serious in pursuing high-performance computing to aid the growth of science, engineering and economic competitiveness'.

Supercomputers are traditionally used for complicated, compute- intense tasks such as mapping the human genome, meteorological modelling and nuclear-blast simulation.

In recent years, these have been adopted for more commercial purposes, including complex online video game and business software applications, financial modelling in the banking sector, extensive logistics planning in the transport sector, and designing aircraft.

'These latest rankings also show how demand for supercomputers in Asia is shifting to faster-growing economies like China, compared with Japan a few years ago,' said Avneesh Saxena, a group vice-president for domain research at market research firm IDC Asia-Pacific.

'In China, we're seeing the government drive strategic projects like the space programme, while large businesses have increased consumption of high-performance systems.'

Mainland telecommunications carriers, internet services providers, engineering firms, universities and government-backed research agencies are the sites for the nation's top-ranked supercomputers.

International Business Machines Corp continues to dominate the local market with about 30 ranked supercomputers, while Hewett-Packard has five.

Lenovo Group launched the first locally produced supercomputer, DeepComp 1800, in 2002. Dawning Information Industry, however, made the first big splash in the Top500 supercomputing list with the Dawning 4000A, which ranked No10 in 2004.

IDC estimates the global market for supercomputers - which are built either as a bulky structure that fills up a large room or a cluster of tens to thousands of networked servers - to be worth US$15 billion next year.