Report: China ‘Seizing’ HPC High Ground, Plans 10 Exascale Systems by 2025

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Exascale supercomputing – which systems vendors can deliver it, which supercomputing centers can access it, which countries have it – will no doubt be a hot topic at the ISC 2022 conference in Germany later this month and in government policy circles concerned with HPC’s geopolitical impact. The discussion is only heating up with a new article in the Financial Times reporting on China’s apparent 12-month-plus exascale lead over the US, Japan and Europe along with China’s plan to have 10 exascale systems in place by 2025.

While most of the article in the FT restates much that’s already been reported, the publication said its story is based on “a recent presentation” by David Kahaner, director of the Asian Technology Information Program (ATIP) and noted HPC analyst. insideHPC has reached out to Kahaner for more details on his latest analysis of exascale in the PRC.

“While the US has three exascale systems in the works, China’s goal is to have 10 systems by 2025, according to Kahaner,” the FT reported. “His research shows Chinese companies are now more focused on domestic competition than on what their international rivals are doing. As a gap opens up between the two nations, the US should consider loosening its sanctions against China’s leading national supercomputing centre at Wuxi in the hope of ‘a deeper glimpse into these [Chinese] systems,’”according to Kahaner.”

“Now, by beatig the US to the next big breakthrough in the field and planning a spate of such machines,” the FT reported, “(China) is in a position to seize the high ground of computing for years to come.”

The report will stir the pot for watchers of the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, an updated version of which will be released during ISC. While China has the most systems on the current list, 186 vs. the U.S.’s 123, China’s exascale capabilities have remained mostly shrouded in secrecy because it has not submitted updated information to the TOP500 organization on its exascale systems. However, reports surfaced late last year that exascale systems in the PRC were up and running, reports that included statements from Kahaner, corroborating China’s exascale capabilities.

According to the article in the FT, Kahaner noted that will China may be in the hardware exascale lead, the U.S. exascale strategy (see the U.S. Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project) has been to invest heavily in development of exascale-ready software, adding that about half of the cost of the $3 billion spent on the first three U.S. exascale machines has been devoted to software.

Frontier exascale system

Kahaner also called for more collaboration between the two superpowers. “Access to new systems allows experimentation, which benefits all parties. To the maximum extent possible, consistent with security and fair/balanced competition, more access is better,” the FT quoted Kahaner.

But given the current sanctions regime imposed by the U.S. on Chinese technology and ongoing geopolitical tensions involving the U.S., China, Taiwan and Russia, less collaboration, not more, seems more likely.