The Race to "Exa" scale

Back in the 60's the United States was immersed in a technological arms race with the Soviet Union. The Cold War was upon us. The era was marked as a period of escalating military tension and technological competition between the two nations. It was a turning point in the evolution of the human race. The Soviets took an early lead in the area of space exploration by launching Sputnik in 1957. This event, along with President John F. Kennedy's famous speech, energized the United States and the race to the moon was on. Fast forward to 2011... The United States remains the only nation to plant a flag on the moon... the U.S. government has outsourced much of it's space program to the private sector... the Space Shuttles are all in museums... and the Soviet Union... is no more.

Human kind again finds itself poised at a technological and ideological inflection point. This time it is a three-horse race between the United States, China, and Japan. This time our sights are set a little closer to home. Instead of a race to the moon it is a race to exascale computing. Why is exascale computing so important? Supercomputers are used as a lever for the human brain to help advance our understanding of physics, biology, materials science, energy, and basic research. The more powerful the computer, the greater the leverage, the more astounding the accomplishments. As we all know knowledge is power and if the U.S. wants to remain the most powerful nation on the planet it should be striving to be the most knowledgeable.

Unlike their race to the moon the United States does not appear to be taking this challenge as serious as it should be. The current U.S. Budget only includes $126 Million to be spent on exascale computing. To help put this number in perspective, in 2012 the U.S. will spend $5.2 Billion on financing foreign country's military operations. These two numbers seem a bit out of whack to me.

Meanwhile Japan is number one on the Top500 list and China just broke through the petascale barrier with their Sunway BlueLight MPP supercomputer. What is unique about the Sunway system is that it is built with chips that were designed and manufactured in China. That's right... no Intel... no AMD... China's latest offering was built with 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 microprocessors. Breaking the petaflop barrier is not that big of a deal (been there... done that...) but China's new Sunway system claims to be the most energy efficient system to date with a unique liquid cooled design. If we aren't careful we just might find ourselves coming up last in this three-horse exascale race.

ClusterChimps © 2009