China: the Growing Computing Power
A few weeks ago, China announced that their supercomputer Tianhe-1A broke the 2 Petaflop barrier. To put that statement into perspective, let’s look at the state of computing right now. A FLOP stands for Floating Operations per Second and hence 2 petaflops means the computer can do 2×1015 floating operations per second. The closest competitor in the US is the Jaguar Cray XT5 with 1.75 Petaflops. There are two important things to notice here. One, this wasn’t done using your average CPUs, but using GPUs. Yes, exactly the same thing that powers your favorite video game. Nvidia is proud of its GPU contribution as it would require more than 50,000 CPUs and twice as much floor space to deliver the same performance using CPUs alone.[1. Nvidia Powers China to Get Fastest Supercomputer, http://www.tomshardware.com/news/nvda-china-super-computer-gpu,11545.html] Tianhe-1A couples massively parallel GPUs with multi-core CPUs, using 7,168 Nvidia Tesla M2050 GPUs and 14,336 CPUs. This is a great departure from the somewhat classic approach of placing processor upon processor to make supercomputers. Another departure is that the Chinese built their own interconnect and router to get this kind of performance.[2. Is China a supercomputer threat? (Q&A), CNET News, http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20021122-64.html] Whenever you design a parallel system, no matter how much processing power you have, it doesn’t matter if you have bad networking and you can’t share data fast enough. Building your own networking system means the Chinese computer scientists will have a much easier time sharing data across the network.
Looking at this from a political standpoint, this means China is no longer just an emerging power; it has emerged and is here to take your lunch and maybe dinner too. They have the desire and resources to build these supercomputers at a great pace. Considering that this machine has 1.4 times the speed of the previous fastest supercomputer validates that China has come along way in building innovative technologies. China can now attract the best and brightest to work on critical problems related to defense, energy and finance. What does this mean for the US and the rest of the world? As a consequence of the depression plaguing the world and the massive budget cuts across the board that have come with it, supercomputers are now seen as a luxury in many people’s eyes. However, they’re necessary to keep the pace of innovation going. These massive racks of computers run our economy. From designing the latest weapons and fighter planes to providing data analysis to businesses to even making sure pringles are aerodynamic enough to be packed efficiently, supercomputers are everywhere. A faster computer means you can out-think everyone else just that much faster, and that’s what China is aiming at. Or perhaps, they are doing that with their forward thinking technocratic regime already…….[3. Made in China: The Revenge of the Nerds, Time Inc, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,165453,00.html]