There is a worldwide race to build the next generation of supercomputers, but U.S. efforts have stalled.
China and Europe, in particular, are moving ahead with programs. And Japan is increasingly picking up the pace.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Exascale computing seen in this decade, an interview with top U.S. computer scientist Peter Beckman about the global race for exascale computing. | Keep up on the day's tech news headlines with InfoWorld's Today's Headlines: Wrap Up newsletter. ]
The U.S. government, meanwhile, has yet to put in place a plan for achieving exascale computing.
Exascale programs aren't just about building supercomputers.
Development of exascale platforms will also seed new processor, storage and networking technologies. Breakthroughs in these areas in other countries may give rise to new challenges to U.S. tech dominance.
Why are exascale systems important?
The systems, which would be capable of achieving 1 quintillion (or 1 million trillion) floating point operations per second -- one thousand times more powerful than a petaflop system -- could be capable of solving the world's greatest scientific problems. If the United States falls behind, the research would increasingly be done in other countries.
In sum, the world has awakened to need of high performance computing. The United States, for now, is dozing.
Five reasons that the U.S. lead in high performance computing is in danger follow.
1: The United States doesn't have an exascale plan.
An exascale development project wold cost the United States billions. Europe has estimated that its own exascale effort will cost $3.5 billion Euros ($4.724 billion) over 10 years.
China is putting untold amounts of money into its effort.
In 2008, China had 15 systems represented on the Top 500 list of the world's most powerful systems. In the latest list, released this month, 74 Chinese-built systems, or 14.8 percent of the world's total, appeared.
In 2010, a China-built system topped the list. Japan now owns the top stop on the supercomputing list as its government shows renewed interest in high performance computing development.
The United States continues to fund big projects such as IBM's planned 20 petaflop computer for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that's due next year. That system may put the United States back in first place on the Top 500 list.
But despite what's going on in Europe and China, the United States has yet to set a budget for exascale development.
The Department of Energy is due to deliver to Congress no later than Feb. 10 the timetable and the costs of building an exascale system. The delivery couldn't come at a worse time, particularly with this week's failure of the Congressional Super Committee to come to a budget agreement, which will trigger mandated cuts.
U.S. scientists have been warning for a year that Europe and China are on a faster exascale development path.
Alex Ramirez, computer architecture research manager, Barcelona Supercomputing Center, shows an ARM and Nvidia processor card.