China’s Tihane-2, the world’s top supercomputer. Photo: Jack Dongarra
"The most important thing about this system is that it not only has a top performance, it also has a substantial investment in technology,” says Dongarra, a computer science professor with the University of Tennessee.
That matters a lot. Supercomputers are the test bed for many of the computing advances that we now see in everything, from the multicore processors in Apple’s iPhone to the futuristic networking technologies in Google’s data centers.
It wasn’t supposed to get this close. Five years ago, the U.S. was on track to build a supercomputer on par with the Tihane-2. The plan is still to someday build these “exascale systems” — machines that are 30 times as powerful as Tihane-2 — but by 2010 the recession intervened and funding never materialized, says Horst Simon, Deputy Laboratory Director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “At the same time that the Chinese have made this big step forward, the American investment is stagnating,” he says.
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