The Europeans, as do the Chinese, see opportunity in the push for exascale, which involves building systems 1,000 times more powerful than anything running today, an order of magnitude that has occurred about every 10 years in HPC development. An exascale system will be able to reach 1 quintillion (or 1 million trillion) floating point operations per second.
But exascale systems "pose numerous hard challenges," said the European Commission (EC) in a report that accompanied its funding announcements. The challenges include 100-fold reduction in energy consumption along with development of new programming models. As Europe sees it, solving these challenges creates opportunity for Europe, China and others looking to take on U.S. HPC dominance.
"These challenges are the same for all actors in the field and cannot be met by mere extrapolation, but require radical innovation in many computing technologies," wrote the EC in its report. "This offers opportunities to industrial and academic players in the EU to reposition themselves in the field."
As for China, "the Chinese are very practical in this regard," said Joseph. "They are very interested in how they use their machines to make their industries stronger."
In announcing Europe's investment, Neelie Kroes, the European Commission vice president responsible for the effort, said in a statement that "high performance computing is a crucial enabler for European industry and for more jobs in Europe. We've got to invest smartly in this field, because we cannot afford to leave it to our competitors."
Addison Snell, CEO of Intersect360 Research, said "Europe gave us the Renaissance, and Europe could again become the world's nexus of scientific discovery."
But Snell also questioned whether Europe will be able to meet the commitment to fund exascale if its economic problems worsen.
In the U.S., there has been restlessness in the HPC community about the lack of a multi-year plan by the government to fund exascale research and development.
Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee who also compiles the Top 500 supercomputing list, welcomed Europe's effort.
"Friendly competition helps to drive things forward," said Dongarra.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
Read more about mainframes and supercomputers in Computerworld's Mainframes and Supercomputers Topic Center.