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Japan Launches Effort to Build World's Fastest Supercomputer (November 22, 2005)

The computers that make up the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology's Earth Simulator supercomputer (Jiji)
A project led by the Japanese government aimed at developing the world's fastest next-generation, high-performance supercomputer is about to get underway. Japan has held the record for the world's fastest computer in the past, and, having been bypassed by an American team in 2004, is determined to regain its place at the top. The move is likely to intensify competition among supercomputer builders around the world.

The World of Teraflops
Supercomputers - extreme high-performance computers built using the most advanced technology available in a given era - are capable of performing hugely complex scientific and technological calculations. Today, in addition to being used for the design and simulation of nuclear power, aircraft, and high-rise buildings, they also play a role in biotechnological and chemical processes like molecular design and genetic analysis.

Since the latter half of the 1970s, Japan and the United States have competed fiercely to develop the fastest supercomputer. In 2002, Japan took the lead with the Earth Simulator, maintained by the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center (now the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology). This computer has a peak speed of 36 teraflops (one teraflop means one trillion floating-point operations per second), which when the Earth Simulator was built was more than five times as fast as the nearest competitor, making it by far the world's top-performing computer.

Japan maintained its lead for two years, but in autumn 2004 the Earth Simulator was unseated by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Blue Gene/L, built by IBM. Supercomputers constructed by US companies also occupied second and third positions in the 2005 ranking, pushing the Earth Simulator down to fourth place.

Unsatisfied with this position, the Japanese government announced that it will begin development in fiscal 2006 (April 2006 to March 2005) of a 10-petaflop high-performance, multi-purpose supercomputer (one petaflop means 1,000 trillion floating-point operations per second). This computer will be some 250 times faster than the Earth Simulator, making it a "dream machine" capable of processing 10 quadrillion operations per second.

Toward a Human-Body Simulator
The seven-year project is scheduled to run through 2012. Organizations from industry, science education, and government will collaborate in the research and development of both hardware and software, with a goal of completing the supercomputer in fiscal 2010. The total cost of the project is projected to be ¥100 billion (approximately $0.9 billion at ¥110 to the dollar), and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has already budgeted ¥4 billion ($36 million) to the project for fiscal 2006.

There are three basic types of supercomputers: vectors, which compile and compute vast amounts of data; accelerators, which are extremely high performing in specific fields; and scalars, which are adept at minutely breaking down and processing data. Japan's new supercomputer will be a multi-purpose machine functioning as a composite of all three types.

In the life-science fields, where computer simulation is currently limited to the molecular level, the development of this multi-functional supercomputer will enable an entire human body - from genes to the body's cells and blood flow - to be simulated in just half a day. The computer is also expected to be used for predicting natural disasters, the design of everything from raw materials to finished products in the nanotechnology field, and providing insight into the formation of galaxies.

MEXT plans to establish the Advanced Computing Science and Technology Center (provisional name) to develop and maintain this next-generation supercomputer. It will be the world's leading center for supercomputer research and education and will also serve to nurture world-class researchers.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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