China is enjoying a major boom in supercomputers. The Middle Kingdom now has 109 high-performance computing systems, according to the biannual Top500 list of supercomputers. Of note, that is a 196% increase from 37 supercomputers in China just six months ago.
The most powerful supercomputer in the world, the Tianhe-2, is also based in China.
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In the U.S. on the other hand, the number of supercomputers has actually declined over the last six months. With 200 supercomputing systems in the rankings, the U.S. leads the global pack. That said, the total number of U.S. supercomputers has hit its lowest level since the Top 500 list began 22 years ago.
Supercomputers are typically used for complex simulations or to help scientific research in a variety of industries. Some applications for supercomputers today include weather forecasts, making drug discoveries, sequencing of DNA and developing new flavor combinations.
More on China’s Tianhe 2 supercomputer
The Tianhe-2 was developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology and is located at a supercomputer center in southern China in the city of Guangzhou.
This record-breaking machine can perform 33.86 quadrillion calculations in one second, nearly twice the speed of the second most powerful supercomputer on the Top500 list – the U.S. Titan system.
Details on Chinese boom in supercomputers
Rajnish Arora, vice president of enterprise computing at market research firm IDC Asia Pacific, pointed out China’s move up in the supercomputer rankings does not mean the U.S. is under-investing, but is more about the current growth phase of China’s economy and major firms.
“When China started off appearing on the centre stage of the global economy in the 80s and 90s, it was predominately a manufacturing hub,” he commented in an interview. “All the IP (intellectual property) or design work would happen in Europe or the US and the companies would just send manufacturing or production jobs to China.
Arora continued to note: “Now as these companies become bigger, they want to invest in technical research capabilities, so that they can create a lot more innovation and do basic design and engineering work.”
The new November Top500 supercomputer list makes it clear that Chinese firms are also moving ahead as supercomputer manufacturers. China’s Sugon passed IBM in the systems category this year with 49, while IBM is down to fourth with 45 systems. American tech firm Hewlett-Packard remains the top dog with 156 supercomputer systems.
Keep in mind that the rankings of the top five supercomputers has not unchanged since June 2013. Arora says this is because of the major investment required to build a cutting-edge supercomputer.
“Companies need to assess whether they really need that large a system to solve the problems they have,” he noted.