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Is China Winning at HPC

When I was in college I took an Astronomy class. This, as best I can remember, was my first introduction to numbers that boggled the mind. Distances so vast, speeds so fast that I got lost in my own mind trying to comprehend the numbers. I tried to re-calculate the values discussed in class in terms that I could understand. For example, one light year is the distance one travels at the speed of light for one year. Now, to put this in terms a college freshman can understand, traveling one light year is going 1,079,252,848.8 kilometers per hour for one year. Now, that is fast and that is far.

Forty plus years later, I am equally as astounded when I try to understand speed and processing power in computer science. High Performance Computing (HPC) technologies are growing to astronomical numbers that are once again boggling my mind.

First, what is a Floating Point Operation FLOP? Well, it’s complicated. For this discussion let’s just agree that a Floating Point Operation is a calculation performed by a High Performance Computer. Note that it is not a bit, but a complicated mathematical computation out to multiple decimal points. HPC processing power is described in terms of FLOPS, MegaFLOPS, GigaFLOPS, PetaFLOPs and so on. A PetaFLOP is one thousand million million FLOPS. So, now we understand the power of HPC. The calculating speed and power is astounding. The social, economic and political implications of this are powerful.

The United States and China are locked in a computer processing race similar to the space race of the 1960’s. According to the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), China is winning.

The United States beat the USSR to the moon with an unwavering commitment, political will and billions of invested dollars. The result was more than bragging rights. Many innovations that have improved our lives came out of space research.

Today, the competition for HPC superiority is equally, if not more important than the 1960s race for space dominance. China’s Sunway Taihu Light System is a High Speed computing system that is capable of 93 petaflops. That is 93 quadrillion Floating Point Operations per second. It is ranked #1 on the TOP500 list of super computers.

According to a Computerworld article on this subject, supercomputing dominance provides a huge economic engine, cutting edge research, capability to build better products, research for infrastructure improvements, new medicines and, of course tools to design many innovative weapons systems. Regardless of which country is number one, all countries that are in the race will receive many benefits.

Supercomputers, of course, are only one of the avenues to reaping benefits of HPC. Clusters of smaller computers are being networked to provide massive computing power with a much more attractive price tag than a single monolithic supercomputer. According to Market Research Future, the global HPC market is forecast to grow to USD$33 Billion by 2022 at a CAGR of 5%.

The two architectures for HPC, supercomputer and smaller computer cluster, both share the same achilles heal…network security. Centralized super computers are large and expensive resources. To keep them off the internet is to deprive many scientists and workers the opportunity to remotely utilize these vital resources. Clusters, by definition, are networks and vulnerable to internal and external threats.

Security is vital to HPC advancement. First, these valuable computing assets are sure to be prime targets for hackers. On another level, however, HPC and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are being used to better protect computing resources. As security appliances develop the capability to learn normal traffic patterns of an organization, then to quickly detect and block anomalies, high speed networks will become less vulnerable and recover quicker from attacks. These security advancements brought about by HPC and AI will benefit all networks.

China may have the #1 super computer, but I hope they use their technical innovations to the advantage of their people. The United States and Europe are currently the largest HPC markets. The awesome computational power of this technology will certainly bring forth many advances in science, social services, medicine and business…and not so much, I hope, in weapons systems.

Posted: 19/10/2017 15:38:13 by Network Critical with 0 comments