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Japan crafts 6-year plan to clobber US supercomputers

10 petaflops of rhetoric

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Japan has again upped the rhetoric in the supercomputer wars, saying it has every intention of outclassing US systems by spending $714m to create a new giant.

Reports from Japan have the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology pledging to fund a 10 petaflop machine. A system of that power would be 73 times faster than an IBM Blue Gene system currently heading the Top 500 list of supercomputers. The Japanese system, however, won't likely be ready until 2010 or 2011.

While it may seem like a rather superficial measuring contest, supercomputer battles are taken quite seriously by the US and Japan. The two countries have been the only ones with enough cash, expertise and pride to battle for the supercomputer champ title. Many see such systems as an indication of a country's technical prowess.

Japan shocked US system makers with the Earth Simulator released in 2002. That box dominated the Top 500 list until IBM's Blue Gene came on the scene in 2004. IBM took 5 out of the top 10 spots on the most recent list with Blue Gene systems, which use thousands of low-power chips to crank through calculations. Earth Simulator has fallen to fourth place.

A system 73 times faster than BlueGene would be impressive. IBM, however, isn't standing still and would likely be able to match the planned Japanese box by 2010.

Governments around the world fund supercomputer projects, hoping to gain access to systems that can model weather, weapons and the reaction of medicine with the body among many other tasks. The computers are so specialized and expensive that the public funds are really necessary to keep the vendors interested. ®

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