Japan aims for world's fastest supercomputer

Japan hopes to build a supercomputer by the end of the decade that will match or surpass anything the U.S. has to offer.

Japan will begin research in June to build a supercomputer capable of crunching numbers about 30 times faster than IBM's Blue Gene/ L, the world's current fastest supercomputer, the Japanese government said Tuesday.

Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has established a program with NEC, Hitachi, and several Japanese universities to develop a supercomputer by as early as 2011 that will be able to perform at over 3 quadrillion calculations per second, or 3 petaflops, according to Toshihiko Hoshino, information, science and technology director at the ministry's Research and Promotion Bureau.

A computer running at such a speed would race ahead of today's fastest systems, which are typically capable of tens of trillions of calculations per second, or tens of teraflops. A teraflop is one trillion calculations per second and a petaflop is 1,000 teraflops.

The computer will be used for biotechnology and nanotechnology research for the benefit of Japanese industry, Hoshino said.

The supercomputer performance record is held today by the US$100 million Blue Gene/L at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. In March the computer was clocked at 135.3 teraflops by the Linpack benchmark, which puts supercomputer systems through a series of mathematical tests. The computer's theoretical peak performance is 360 teraflops, according to IBM.

While the exact performance of Japan's supercomputer has yet to be decided, the government wants it to match or exceed the speeds that it predicts U.S. supercomputers will have at the end of the decade, Hoshino said.

"We predict that Blue Gene/L or its successors will be working at about 3 or 4 petaflops around 2010. Our target is to be at least the same speed, or faster," he said.

The development will be split into a three-year research period and a two- to three-year building and assembly period. During the research phase, NEC, which specializes in building supercomputers, will research optical interconnect technologies, while Hitachi will research circuit and transistor design, Hoshino said.

He declined comment on the budget for the project.

Japan's fastest supercomputer today is NEC's SX6-model Earth Simulator, which in clocked a peak performance of nearly 36 teraflops in April 2002, according to the Linpack benchmark.

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