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Japanese 'Computenik' Earth Simulator shatters US supercomputer hegemony

Tokyo 20 April 2002 The Japanese Earth Simulator is on-line and producing results that alarm the USA, that considered itself as being leading in supercomputing technology. With over 35 Tflop/s, it five times outperforms the Asci White supercomputer that is leading the current TOP500 list. No doubt that position is for the Earth Simulator, not only for the next list, but probably even for the coming two years. In the New York Times, bench mark compiler Jack Dongarra compares the event with the Sputnik, hence he dubbed the Earth Simulator "Computenik".

The Earth Simulator is a special purpose machine, made by NEC with the same type of vector technology as is available on the SX-6. This is a different approach than the Americans are taking, who base the large machines on off-the shelf technology. A clear advantage of the Japanese approach is that they "only" need 5104 processors for the Earth Simulator. The Asci White at the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and made by IBM, already needs 8192 processors for 7 Tflop/s.

Nevertheless, a complete new building was created for the Earth Simulator, because it is a huge machine.

The Earth Simulator will be used for research in Earth related science. It is especially suited for simulating complex linked systems, where for instance, the climate is modelled together with water flow on the earth and models of the ocean. In general, these types of applications lend themselves very good for vector processing.

Hans Meuer, the father of the TOP500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers, asked for a comment, says: The ES (Earth Simulator) is a significant step into the future of high end supercomputers: it is approximately 5 times faster than the current #1, ASCI White, if we take the best linpack performance as a yardstick. I do expect the ES to be faster than the sum of the first other 19 machines in the TOP20 of the forthcoming 19th TOP500 list. Thus the ES is a real challenge for the US ASCI program. The US labs are now falling significantly behind.

The New York Times reports: "In some sense we have a Computenik on our hands," said Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who reported the achievement today. On this citation, Hans Meuer comments: The exciting thing for me is that this is the first system after Numerical Wind Tunnel (built by Fujitsu) to take over the lead in the TOP500 list as a true vector processing system. And like the Numerical Wind Tunnel being the number one spot from 11/93 to 11/95 I expect the ES to be the number one in the world for at least two years.

In Europe we do not have a supercomputer industry, we do have, however many supercomputer applications. What will be the impact on "Earth simulation" type of research in Europe? We are pretty good at that today. Are the large supercomputers we have here (and the Grid based projects) powerful enough to keep up with the Japanese research in this field? We did ask Hans Meuer, who said: It is difficult to judge on the impact of ES in Europe. But I think that vector processing with a very long tradition especially in Europe could experience a renaissance as one of the leading architectures. In Europe there is no major HPC manufacturing activity at present, therefore we should appreciate the diversity of different architectures of HPC. NEC did a great job with the ES as a major step to emphasize that vector processing is not only still alive but capable to take the number one spot in the world with an unbelievable gap to the other high end systems. "Earth Simulator" type of research in Europe has already decided, at least partially, to run their problems on SX-6 based systems, e.g. the "Deutsche Klimarechenzentrum (DKRZ)" in Hamburg.

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