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Supercomputer ‘K Computer’ and RIKEN


About “Supercomputers”
Supercomputers can be broadly defined as computers with a considerably faster speed of calculation than general purpose computers. The specifics of what can be called a supercomputer change over the years, but today the term refers to a computer that is at least 1,000 times faster at floating-point calculations than servers in general use. 

At present, supercomputers are generally used for the high-speed processing of massive and complex calculations required in scientific and technological fields. They are widely utilized in academia and industry alike. 

The development of ever faster supercomputers, capable of processing larger and more complex calculations at higher speeds, is a challenge subject to intense international competition. Of the many countries currently engaged in supercomputer research and development, Japan and the United States are the outright frontrunners. Thus far, Japan has developed a number of the most advanced supercomputers in the world. 

Supercomputer development had been a field dominated by the United States until the 1970s, when Japan entered the race. Three companies, Fujitsu, Hitachi, and NEC, began investing in supercomputer development in earnest, and it is these three same companies that are the most prominent supercomputer manufacturers today.

Historically, supercomputer development has been identified in Japan as a research field of high national importance. As such, the three companies listed above have been active in establishing programs of joint research with national universities and government-run research institutes, including Tokyo Institute of Technology, the University of Tokyo, and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). Consequently, the majority of supercomputers in Japan are installed at national universities and government-run research institutes. 

The World’s Fastest Supercomputer
In 2006, the ‘Next-Generation Supercomputer Project’ was launched, under the leadership of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology launched, at RIKEN, bringing this leading research institute into the heart of supercomputer development in Japan. The project saw RIKEN join forces with Fujitsu to try and develop the world’s fastest supercomputer.

The efforts of both parties paid off with, in 2011, the development of the K Computer, the most advanced Japanese-manufactured supercomputer ever to have been produced. Research and development on the project is being overseen by Ryoji Noyori, President of RIKEN, and other RIKEN scientists including Kimihiko Hirao and Tadashi Watanabe.

The K Computer is not just the fastest supercomputer in Japan. It is also the fastest in the world. In June 2011, the K Computer was ranked first on the thirty-seventh TOP500 List of the world’s top supercomputers as published at the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC’11) held in Hamburg, Germany. This means that a Japanese-manufactured supercomputer has once again topped the list, after the ‘Earth Simulator’ (jointly developed by JAMSTEC and NEC) was ranked first in June 2004. It was again ranked number one in the world in the thirty-eighth TOP500 List, published in November 2011, beating its own previous record by a considerable degree.

The world-beating K Computer boasts the following specifications.

Currently, the processing capability of a supercomputer is described in terms of how many floating-point calculations it can make in a single second. The goal of national research project that led to the development of the K Computer was to create a supercomputer capable of performing 10 quadrillion (or kei, ‘K’, in Japanese) floating-point calculations a second. As such, the project was given the name kei, and this was adopted for the resulting supercomputer (‘K’) also.

As of June 2011, the K Computer has proved capable of 8.2 quadrillion floating-point calculations a second. This makes it 3.2 times more powerful than the Tianhe-1A, a Chinese supercomputer that topped the rankings in 2010.

As of November 2011, the K Computer has achieved a calculation processing speed of 10 quadrillion calculations per second, as its name promises. At the ISC’11 held in Seattle, US, it was confirmed capable of speeds of 10.51 quadrillion floating-point calculations (petaflop/s) a second.

The K Computer is scheduled to be completed in June 2012, and will be ready for joint research use from November of the same year. It seems reasonable to hope for further performance advancement from this outstanding technology.

The K Computer is expected to be utilized widely in fields of scientific research and development in Japan as a core national technology. Going forward, it will doubtless contribute to the progress of academic and technological development in Japan.

PRIMEHPC FX10: Commercial Supercomputer
In November 2011, Fujitsu received its first order from the University of Tokyo for one of its brand new commercial supercomputer systems, at a price of around 5 billion yen.

The order was placed by the Supercomputing Division of the University’s Information Technology Center. The Center was established in 1965, as has been active ever since as a national joint-use facility for large-scale computation. It is used by more than 1500 researchers, both internal and external, many of whom are world leaders in their respective fields. Many are also K Computer users, and by placing an order for the PRIMEHPC FX10, the Center hopes to maintain compatibility with the K Computer.

The PRIMEHPC FX10 contains application software which is easily applicable to the K Computer. The PRIMEHPC FX10 is a commercial version of the K Computer, with around one tenth of its theoretical processing capability, or around 1.13 petaflop/s. The new supercomputer is scheduled to start operations in April 2012.

Written on Jun 21, 2011. Added on Nov 16, 2011.

About the author
Eriko Kinashi is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON
( RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science(RIKEN AICS) )
( The Development of the Next-Generation Supercomputer- )