By comparison, Cray's Opteron-based Red Storm supercomputer, which is scheduled to enter operation in 2004, outstrips both the Dawning 4000 series and Deepcomp 1800 in terms of performance. When it is operational, Red Storm will offer a maximum performance level of 40 TFLOPS and will be upgradable to 60 TFLOPS, according to the terms of the contract with the DOE, Cray said. The computer's design offers headroom for even greater performance and can be scaled to hundreds of TFLOPS, it said.
That puts the US$90 million Red Storm in the running to become the most powerful computer in the world, a position currently held by NEC's Earth Simulator at Japan's Earth Simulator Center, which is capable of up to 40 TFLOPS.
For China, it makes sense to have a government-backed company that can push the homegrown development of high-end computing systems, Saxeena said, citing U.S. export controls that limit what types of high-end systems may be exported to Chinese end users.
The development of systems like the Dawning 4000A "may not be driven by whether it makes business sense. It may be driven by this need to have something local here that they can use," he said.
"There has been some interest in the educational sector and [the defense sector] would have some requirements," Saxeena said, citing bio-IT and life sciences as areas where the Chinese educational sector has shown demand for high-end computers and server clusters.
In addition, Dawning's Li noted growing demand for supercomputers from Chinese companies, including those in the petroleum and financial industries, representing a shift from Dawning's traditional customer base of research institutes and government organizations. For example, the 4.2-TFLOPS Dawning 4000L supercomputer announced in June was sold to a subsidiary of state-owned China Petrochemical Corp., he said
For its part, AMD benefits from being able to point to supercomputers like the Dawning 4000A and Red Storm to build mindshare for its Opteron processors, Saxeena said, noting the growing use of x86 processors, like those from AMD rival Intel Corp., in high-end server clusters.
"This is a hot market," he said. "It may not be big numbers, but it will be in time."