China revealed its latest supercomputer, Sunway TaihuLight, last month with 10.65 million computer cores that have been built using entirely Chinese microprocessors. The reason for using only Chinese microprocessors is because the US government last year denied access to Intel’s fastest microprocessors to China.
The theoretical peak performance of Sunway TaihuLight is 124.5 petaflops as per the latest biannual release of the world’s Top500 supercomputers. It is the first system Chinese supercomputer to cross the 100 petaflops mark. A petaflop is equivalent to one thousand trillion (one quadrillion) sustained floating-point operations per second.
What makes the Sunway TaihuLight truly amazing are its microprocessors. China used to rely heavily on US microprocessors in the past for its supercomputing capacity. The second-fastest supercomputer by China, Tianhe-2, has a peak performance of 54.9 petaflops and relies on Intel Xeon processors.
Sunway TaihuLight has been installed at China’s National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi and makes use of Shen Wei CPUs that have been developed by Jiangnan Computing Research Lab in Wuxi. The OS is a Linux-based Chinese system known as Sunway Raise. Jack Dongarra, who is a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee and among the academic leaders of the Top500 supercomputing list, said that Sunway TaihuLight is ‘very impressive’.
Dongarra further said that Sunway TaihuLight is running sizeable applications including earth systems modeling, advanced manufacturing, big data applications, and life science. This ‘shows that the system is capable of running real applications and [is] not just a stunt machine.’ The fact that China has been busy developing a 100-plus petaflop system has been known for quite some time. It was believed that China would rely on US chip technology for attaining this performance level. However, about a year – in a completely surprising move – ago, the US stopped Intel from supplying Xeon chips to four supercomputing research centers in China.
The ban, as claimed by the US, was because China was relying on Tianhe-2 system for nuclear explosive testing activities. The US ceased live nuclear testing in 1992 and now makes use of computer simulations. China took this ban as an attempt by the US to slow down its supercomputing development efforts. The Chinese government has already stated that it has plans of developing an exascale system by 2020.
As of right now, China has more supercomputers in the Top500 as compared to the US. China has a total of 167 supercomputers and to show you how far China has come; it only had 10 systems on this list about a decade ago. China is also working on earning global peer recognition. The work that it has done on Sunway TaihuLight has enabled China for three submissions that have become finalists for supercomputing’s prestigious Gordon Bell Award.