May 14, 2009
Japan's Next-Generation Supercomputing Project got a slap in the face today with NEC's announcement that it would abandon its manufacturing plans for the project. According to an AFP news report, NEC partner Hitachi would also be backing out, leaving Fujitsu as the lone computer manufacturer to carry the effort forward.
The ambitious project, which is being led by RIKEN, a government-backed research agency, aims to build and deploy the initial version of a 10-petaflop supercomputer called "Kei Soku Keisanki" by early next year. The machine will combine vector and scalar components and serve as a national resource for petascale research applications. The endeavor also represents an effort by the government to recapture Japan's glory days of supercomputing earlier in the decade when the Earth Simulator stood atop the TOP500 list. The Japanese project was on schedule to match or exceed the most ambitious multi-petaflop supercomputing deployments in the US and Europe.
Unfortunately the recession intervened. Both NEC and Hitachi have been on the skids due to the worsening global economy. NEC lost over $3 billion in FY09, while Hitachi bled over $8 billion during the same period -- the largest loss ever posted by a Japanese manufacturer. The two firms were expected to invest $100 million in the supercomputing project, but have apparently decided they have more pressing needs right now than to build a machine for the sake of grand challenges and Japanese prestige.
From the NEC press release:
NEC estimated that costs for moving forward with the manufacturing phase of the Next-Generation Supercomputer Project would significantly impact earnings for the fiscal year ending in March 2010, due to extensive investment required for the computer's manufacturing. Therefore, NEC has decided not to participate in the project's manufacturing phase.
Without NEC and Hitachi to build the vector components for the machine (Fujitsu is manufacturing the scalar components), it's unlikely that the project will remain on schedule for an initial deployment by March 2010. Nikkei reported that the pull out of NEC and Hitachi "forced Riken, the government-affiliated research body in charge, to announce it will take the project back to the drawing board." Yikes.
While NEC and Hitachi were backpedaling from their petaflop commitment, Fujitsu was announcing it had developed a prototype of its Sparc64 VIIIfx chip, the 128 gigaflop scalar processor it has been grooming for the Kei Soku Keisanki machine and HPC in general. Codenamed "Venus," the new Sparc chip is an eight-core CPU, with an embedded memory controller and souped-up SIMD support. According to Fujitsu, it delivers about 2.5 times the raw floating point performance of a top end Nehalem processor, while using only a fraction of the power.
But with Japan's supercomputing project now in disarray, the future of Venus looks a bit cloudy. If RIKEN decides on a total redesign for the 10 petaflop super, Fujitsu may lose any future government funding for its wonder chip. And with Sun Microsystems headed for Oracle-land, it's doubtful Fujitsu will be able to count on its former partner for Sparc support.
In any case, it will be interesting to see who RIKEN and the Japanese government turn to reconsitute their petascale effort. Since NEC, Hitachi, and Fujitsu represent most of the domestic supercomputing talent, it wouldn't be surprising if Japan's next-generation supercomputing effort takes on a decidely international flavor.
Posted by Michael Feldman - May 14, 2009 @ 5:23 PM, Pacific Daylight Time
Michael Feldman is the editor of HPCwire.
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