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Treat supercomputing like a national resource says ARM Research HPC lead

Tamlin Magee | Sept. 21, 2016
Supercomputing capability tends to be regarded as a kind of arms race, and Van Hensbergen believes that there is merit to this claim.

"I wish there was more understanding of that within the public. I feel like the US and Europe have been lagging a little because it's been deprioritised. It's not one of these things people want to talk about in the public eye, and I think that's a shame because I think so much depends on it.

"I'd much rather see us prioritise supercomputers versus war - it's not as much fun to talk about as Donald Trump's hairdo but it ends up being a critical piece of our national policy. It's one of those things that's incredibly difficult for an individual company to go off and do on their own. You need a national agenda, or a multi-country agenda behind it to accomplish something substantial.

An example Van Hensbergen cites is in the real-world effects of weather simulations, particularly in the move from petascale to exascale computing where the extra power provides more accurate predictions and quicker. Imagine, he says, knowing a hurricane is going to hit and actively being able to alert people who will be directly affected - or not knowing.

"You can say the same sort of things for all sorts of scientific discoveries," he says. "And you want to have local supercomputing to support your local industry, because it will mean more efficient batteries, more efficient combustion engines, more efficient solar panels - it is a national resource."

For his part, Van Hensbergen believes that ARM architecture could help regions like Britain and the rest of Europe catch up to the US, Japan and in particular, China. But they will need to take it as seriously to come even close.

China currently has the top two fastest supercomputers in the world according to the Top 500 - the Tianhe-2 in second place, and the Sunway TaihuLight in first. Europe does have 37 systems in the top 100, with two in the top 10. The US has four supercomputers in the top 10 and 31 in the top 100.

"China has really mastered it," he says. "They've been dumping money on this problem and gone from no domestic capability to being number one in a really short period of time. I'm not suggesting we need to spend the same amount as they do, but I feel like directed, focused funding could really help catch up, and indeed, beat them if we really set our minds to it."

 

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