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Friday, October 3, 2014

Japan Looks To Get Back To Top Of SuperComputer Industry

It sucks when you aren't number one - especially after being the top dog... trust me, my delusions of grandeur make me an expert in that.

But consider poor Japan, once the de facto country in the field of robotics and super-computers, is now on the outside looking in.

They Stole It From Japan!
Back in 2011, Japan was ranked Numero Uno (#1) with the manufacture of its fastest on the planet supercomputer... when its K Computer achieved a speed of 10.51 petaflops.

Then along came the Chinese and their wonderful supercomputer, the Tianhe-2, with a processing power of 30 petaflops.

FLOP is an acronym for FLoating-point Operations Per Second... and calculates computer operating speed as:
\text{FLOPS} = \text{cores} \times \text{clock} \times \frac{\text{FLOPs}}{\text{cycle}} 
As for Peta... I thought that was just an animal rights group that tossed paint onto people wearing fur or eating a steak or wearing leather shoes...

Okay, I'm kidding, PETA does many wonderful things for the prevention of cruelty of animals, though sometimes it does need to pick its battles better.

With regards to measuring computer speeds, I present this chart:

NAME FLOPS
kiloFLOPS 103
megaFLOPS 106
gigaFLOPS 109
teraFLOPS 1012
petaFLOPS 1015
exaFLOPS 1018
zettaFLOPS 1021
yottaFLOPS 1024

These may be important things to know when we get a bit older... when our computer memory sticks and hard drives progress beyond the 'giga' as in gigabyte or 'tera' as in terabyte stage - next up... peta, exa, zetta and yotta bytes.

So… Japan wants to be top dog again, and to do so it is putting all of its proverbial eggs into one giant basket—Fujitsu, who won the bidding via E-bay (kidding) - whose winning bid allows it the opportunity to develop Japan's next-generation supercomputer by 2020.

Working with the Japanese-government backed think-tank Riken, Fujitsu will be asked to have the basic design of the computer ready by 2015… then it can figure out the nitty-gritty stuff before the actual build.

But guess what? Rather than build it at home using Japanese-built parts, in order to save some yen, Fujitsu has already revealed (via its bidding process), that it plans to have foreign companies in such places as Taiwan and elsewhere build some of the materials for it.

We can call that a lesson learned. Yup… Fujitsu was involved in the design and build of the K-computer… but apparently costs went nutsy because the parts were all built in Japan… so… rather than try and boost the Japanese domestic industries, this new supercomputer build will defray costs by out-sourcing.

Does Japan Prime Minister Abe Shinzo know about this? Isn't it a slap in the face of Abenomics? Will this computer still be considered a Japanese creation if some of its guts be gaijin guts?

Does Japan really need to have its ego placated to be number one again in this market? Sure… I suppose… why not? It keeps the computer scientists happy, so at least no one will be trying to take over the world - at least not until the computer is built.

Anyhow… the plan is for Fujitsu to build Japan an exaFLOPS speed computer - or something that has 100x more processing speed than the K computer. And I think we can all agree, except for the women, that faster is better.

How much?!
For a country that seems to be up to its epicanthic fold in debt, this project right now projects to cost around ¥130 billion (US$1.2-billion)… which would work out to roughly $250,000 every time someone asks the computer to make its NFL football picks for a single game.

I just made that part up about $250,000 and the NFL.

WTF is it good for?!
Absolutely something - the idea is that it will be used to aid in the development of new drugs (I want a new drug) with fewer side-effects… really?

It will also be used to predict the impact of large-scale earthquakes… really? Just look out the window in Fukushima… there's your impact. Now close it! You're letting in all the radioactivity.

It will also be asked to do… and more… WTF? What does that mean? Things beyond my puny imagination? I dream big, fella, why one time I Zzzzzzz… What the—?! Where am I? Oh yeah…

Obviously Fukushima-ken as a whole is not like that… but to spend a billion bucks to predict earthquake damage on hypothetical earthquakes?

Okay… even if I believed that be worthwhile (it is if the data is used to creative better response times and services to the afflicted areas), surely we have computers - say the K Computer, also created by Fujitsu - that is doing such calculations right now… or has been doing them for the past few years?

In fact, it is… it has been doing medical research, disaster prevention and climate research. I'm going to have to give it a fail on the disaster prevention work.

So… I'm all for Japan trying to be number one… but to quote my old pal Rodney Dangerfield, when you are watching out for number one, you have to make sure you don't step in number two.

Speaking of which, along with the U.S. and various European countries, China is also trying to develop and construct an exaFLOP supercomputer by the year 2020…

It's a great time to be an industrial spy.

Cheers,
Andrew 8-bit Joseph

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