CW: Why is it so important for Europe to develop its own system?
Beckman: A good way to look at this is Airbus and Boeing. An IDC report ( download PDF ) said to the Europeans: You have all this technology but its spread out through all of Europe. If you were to bring it together, you could, like Airbus, compete quite well. I don't want to put too much emphasis on this, but I think it's pretty clear that the Europeans want to develop a platform that can be sold at their supercomputer centers and sold back to us.
CW: What about the Chinese?
Beckman: The Chinese are moving full speed ahead. They have a machine that is very similar in character to some of our machines. It's a water-cooled machine, with 16 cores on a die in a socket at about a petaflop in about nine racks. It's a pretty amazing feat and they are in it to win it. If you look at their investment in people, they're training up the scientists and building platforms to continue that innovation so that they can have their own homegrown industry as well; where they will own all the technology from the chip all the way to the software stack to top.
CW: What does winning look like?
Beckman: Right now, if you look at China, a lot of their machines are still made from components in the U.S. However, this one machine that they built, the 16 core has its own interconnects, uses Chinese technology. What they would like to do, just like any country, is to be able to reap the benefits of developing that technology across their entire infrastructure, so that everything that's in their cell phones all the way up to their to supercomputers is jobs in China. And of course once that happens, they will be selling this back to Brazil to South America, to India. Whether or not they can sell it back into to the U.S. is a good question, but the rest of the markets are open.
CW: Intel says it can deliver an exascale system by 2018, ahead of U.S. government's requested date. What do you think about that?
Beckman: I think Intel's technology is pretty exciting and they have mapped an aggressive roadmap. They have unmatched technology in the chip and in process, and if they want to go after this new piece, I think they will do very well.
Nvidia believes 2019 is possible, but also says government help will be needed. Given how far out in the future we are looking it's pretty hard to predict what date people will finish their products by. We know that there are certain things that both companies (Nvidia and Intel) would not address unless we give them government funding. For example, for scientific computing resilience is something we think is a really big issue. If you are selling a laptop you don't need to make it a 1,000 times more fault resistant, but if you put it in an exascale system, you do. That will not be developed unless the government invests in it.
The second one is power. Most people around the planet are going to buy a couple of dozen racks. For them the price sensitivity, whether it's a couple of hundred kilowatts or twice that, [is not a] big deal. But when you are talking about a machine as big as ours, that is a big deal. So putting the investment in power, in making it extraordinary lower, there probably isn't a market driver in their short-term time frame except in government exascale.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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