Fujitsu aims Sparc64 supers beyond Japan

Special K, meet Monsieur Fusion

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Japanese supercomputer maker Fujitsu is looking to export massively parallel RISC supers based on the 10 petaflops Project K machine it's building for the Japanese government.

According to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun, Fujitsu is gearing up to export supercomputers based on the K machine this year. The obvious place for Fujitsu to start exports is in Europe, where it has a strong presence of its own (thanks to its long server partnership with and then acquisition of the Siemens IT unit), but given that the K machine can run either Solaris or Linux, there is no reason why the Sparc64-based clusters cannot be sold in the United States and China.

Back in 1997, Fujitsu and NEC were driven out of the supercomputer racket in the US after heavy lobbying by Cray compelled the Department of Commerce to impose heavy import duties on gear sold by the Japanese super makers. It was a $35m bid from May 1996 to put a 128-processor SX-4 vector supercomputer into the National Center for Atmospheric Research that got the senators from Wisconsin and Minnesota to lean on the Clinton Administration and find that the three Japanese companies were illegally dumping their HPC gear in the US market. The Commerce Department eventually imposed 454 per cent import duties on NEC and 173 per cent duties on Fujitsu.

Ironically, nationalism and the stiff competition in the supercomputer business are what compelled the Japanese government to allocate $1.2bn in January 2006 to the original Project Keisoku effort, which had NEC and Hitachi creating a new vector supercomputer engine and interconnect and Fujitsu building a scalar Sparc64 module that could plug into it to yield a hybrid vector-scalar machine weighing in at an aggregate 10 petaflops.

The only problem was the Great Recession, which slammed the financials of NEC and Hitachi, forcing them to bail on Project Keisoku in May 2009. Fujitsu picked up the interconnect – Tofu, which implements a 6D mesh/torus cluster of server nodes – committing to building a 10 petaflops scalar super.

The machine is now known simply as K, and its nodes have water cooling on four processor sockets and on their main memory, and each processor will have eight cores using the future Sparc64-VIIIfx processor. The K super will have over 80,000 of these eight-core processors to hit that 10 petaflops performance level.

At 2 GHz, this Sparc64-VIIIfx chip, which is implemented in 45 nanometer processes, will burn at 58 watts and deliver 2.2 gigaflops per watt, as El Reg detailed when Fujitsu started building the K box for Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and installing it in the Riken lab in Kobe last September. The K machine is expected to be installed and fully operational by the fall of 2012, slipping from a late 2011 delivery date from a few years back.

It is possible that Fujitsu could get smaller chunks of the K machine ready before then, of course. Given the high cost of manufacturing the Sparc64-VIIIfx machines, their interconnect, and their cooling and frames, you can bet that Fujitsu wants to spread those costs out over more than one customer. The Yomiuri Shimbun report says that Fujitsu is currently in discussions with the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor facility in France for a possible sale of a K box. This is an ideal first customer, given that ITER is a fusion research facility established by the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan back in 1985. China, India, and South Korea joined two decades later.

The ITER fusion reactor is being built now in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. The Tokamak reactor site is being prepared now and the reactor is expected to begin its experiments in 2019. It will take a little longer before the ITER effort comes up with Mr Fusion, of course. (Or, perhaps more appropriately, Monsieur Fusion). And it will no doubt take a tremendous amount of supercomputing horsepower to design and run the Tokamak fusion reactor, which is why Fujitsu is starting its K export efforts at ITER. ®

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