China breaks ground on futuristic supercomputer complex

China will be using its supercomputing capability for scientific research such as climate models, but also military purposes

China has unveiled a sleek, ultra modern-appearing design for its new supercomputing center, apparently rejecting the windowless, boxy design of typical data center complexes with an architectural style -- including a saucer-shaped building -- that may reflect the country's broader supercomputing ambitions .

A groundbreaking for the new National Supercomputing Center was held on Sunday. The facility, to be located in Changsha, in China's central Hunan Province, will house the Tianhe-1A, which was ranked last month as the world's fastest supercomputer at 2.5 petaflops .

A rendering of China's third National Supercomputing Center. China's Xinhua News Agency published the image on Monday.

Tad Davies, executive vice president of the Bick Group, a company whose work includes data center design, looked at the rendering and said it doesn't offer much in the way of specifics. Renderings are created to "create impressions" rather than reflect realities, he said.

Although Davies isn't sure which of the two building will house the supercomputer, the elevated round building would have to be constructed to handle the data center's significant weight loads. Also, round building are not space efficient.

The round roof could be used collect water. But the underground level visible in the image "would be an ideal location," for the computer, he said. The rectangular building is set to house labs, classrooms and offices, Davies suspects.

China has launched an aggressive supercomputing development schedule, according to slides from a presentation made by an official at the Supercomputing Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences at an exascale conference in October.

From 2011-2015, China wants to build at least one system capable of 50 to 100 petaflops. The U.S. plans to launch at least two 20-petaflop systems in 2012 , one at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the other at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

China has set a target of 2016 to 2020 for its first exascale system (an exaflop is thousands times faster than a petaflop). The U.S. has approved funding for initial steps in exascal funding, but has not set aside funding for vendors to begin working with scientists on systems development.

China, like other countries, will be using its supercomputing capability for scientific research, such as sandstorm prediction, climate models, but also military uses.

One slide that was part of the Chinese academy presentation shows a jet plane and military ship, and says the system is being used for "stealth design of airplanes," and RCS, which may represent Radar Countermeasures System.

This slide, from an academy presentation, illustrates electromagnetic scattering, part of the science behind development of stealth aircraft.

China's increasing aerospace capabilities and its development of stealth aircraft was the subject of a hearing earlier this year by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, where Wayne Ulman, the China issue manager at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, said in testimony that the Chinese military "is working on a very comprehensive approach to information superiority."

"[China seeks to] integrate electronic warfare, cyber operations, PSYOPS (Psychological Operations), denial and deception, and kinetic attack to defeat adversary information systems," Ulman testified. "The PLA (People's Liberation Army) seem intent on integrating electronic warfare with cyber operations."

In releasing the rendering of the supercomputing center, Chinese officials did not detail what kind of research will be conducted at the supercomputing center. But a photo of the groundbreaking on Sunday showed 11 people, and among them two people wearing what appeared to be military uniforms .

A photo from the groundbreaking ceremony for the supercomputing center shows two people, third from left and fourth from right, apparently dressed in military uniforms.

Construction is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Data Centerhardware systemsConfiguration / maintenanceGovernment use of ITIT in GovernmentMainframes and Supercomputers

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?