China claims exascale by 2020, three years before U.S.

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China has set 2020 as the date for delivering an exascale system, the next major milestone in supercomputing performance. This is three years ahead of the U.S. roadmap.

This claim is from China's National University of Defense Technology, as reported Thursday by China's official news agency, Xinhua.

This system will be called Tianhe-3, following a naming convention that began in 2010 when China announced its first petaflop-scale system, Tianhe-1. The first petascale system was developed in the U.S. in 2008.

The U.S. roadmap calls for delivering an exascale system -- capable of 1,000 petaflops -- in 2023.

But it's not clear just what China will deliver in 2020. Theoretically, an exascale computer could be built today but it wouldn't be practical. The power needs may be in excess of what the U.S. believes is possible, power-wise, by 2023: A system that uses 20 to 30 megawatts.

"It's entirely probable that one or more governments will deploy supercomputers with hypothetical peak performance of an exaflop by 2020," said Steve Conway, a high-performance computing analyst at IDC. "An exaflop is an arbitrary milestone, a nice round figure with the kind of symbolic lure the four-minute mile once held."

But what will China be capable of delivering in 2020?

The first stage will likely be peak exaflop performance, and then a Linpack test making make it eligible for ranking on the Top 500 supercomputing list, said Conway.

But the measure "that counts most, but will be likely be celebrated least," said Conway, "is sustained exaflop performance on a full, challenging 64-bit application."

That third stage probably won't happen until the 2022 to 2024 timeframe, he said.

That's the timeframe the U.S. has set, and its definition of exascale is sustained performance.

The White House, in an executive order last year, released a plan for coordinating exascale development and defined an exascale system capable of "100 times the performance of current 10-petaflop systems across a range of applications representing government needs."

The U.S. emphasis is on application performance, not on a peak performance record. Even if China does meet its 2020 goal, the debate will be over the usefulness of the machine. Nonetheless, China will likely use the machine to underscore its science advancement.

China has been leading the Top 500 list with its 34-petaflop Tianhe-2 system, but that list is due to be updated next week at the ISC High Performance Conference in Frankfurt, Germany.

This story, "China claims exascale by 2020, three years before U.S." was originally published by Computerworld.

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