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White House Warns of Supercomputer Arms Race

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the supercold-war dept.

Government 123

dcblogs writes "The White House's science advisors, in a report last week, said a petaflop-by-petaflop race to achieve number one on the Top500 could prove costly and divert money from supercomputing research. 'While it would be imprudent to allow ourselves to fall significantly behind our peers with respect to scientific performance benchmarks that have demonstrable practical significance, a single-minded focus on maintaining clear superiority in terms of flops count is probably not in our national interest,' the report said (PDF). It is urging the supercomputing community to expand its benchmark measures beyond the Top500's Linpack. It says the Graph500, for data-intensive applications involving the rapid execution of graph operations, 'will be more relevant,' but also acknowledges that it will difficult to rely on any one measure."

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Arms Race? (2, Interesting)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#34660936)

Supercomputer Race. Unless supercomputers start blowing up or growing arms.

Re:Arms Race? (2)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34660964)

"Arms race" is a single term that stands for competitors attempting to gain a technical or material advantage faster than each other. "Supercomputer race" would simply be a race between supercomputers.

Re:Arms Race? (2)

Your.Master (1088569) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661152)

"Supercomputer race" would simply be a race between supercomputers.

Why is that a problem? It seems like a perfectly apt description to me.

if you describe everything in terms of war (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661210)

you're always at war -- might as well kill yourself

Re:Arms Race? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661504)

"Arms Race" is a war metaphor, meant to keep a country socialized to a certain state of mind. You see it in business all the time now too; we used to use sports metaphors, now it's all "product wars" and "command centres". I'd say the general re-programming of the public appears to be working well. Does that make me a terrorist?

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661946)

Don't be silly, Supercomputers can't run.

Anyway, we're moving to CUDA based hardware for a lot of things, so what's the big deal?

Re:Arms Race? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34660966)

I think it was purely hyperbole.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Metabolife (961249) | more than 3 years ago | (#34660984)

Don't underestimate them.

Re:Arms Race? (2)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 3 years ago | (#34660986)

Supercomputer competition. Unless supercomputers start high-speed drifting through Tokyo.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661006)

Computer competition. Unless computers can fly and work for the Daily Planet.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661106)

Computer competition. Unless computers can fly and work for the Daily Planet.

I think Superman's robot doubles might qualify. I'm sure there has to have been a comic where he ordered a double to replace Kent for a day or two of work.

Re:Arms Race? (2)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661022)

Supercomputer Race. Unless supercomputers start blowing up or growing arms.

It's likely that the single largest driver of US government spending on supercomputers is for nukes. [wikimedia.org]

Re:Arms Race? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661216)

Well, anyone with more than two brain cells can look at the top ten of the TOP500 list and note that four of the computers on that list are at the two primary sites involved in the Manhattan Project (Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories). Though I think a lot of the research these days is shifting over to other energy-related computational projects, such as biofuels.

Re:Arms Race? (2)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661246)

Well, at least those nukes budgets have some value: improving supercomputer performance, that can be used for actually useful applications.

Maybe someday we'll get smart and use the computers for only that kind of apps, like weather and climate modeling, and energy physics research that doesn't make bombs.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661276)

Maybe someday we'll get smart and use the computers for only that kind of apps, like weather and climate modeling, and energy physics research that doesn't make bombs.

Those budgets are for modeling the degradation of current nuclear weapons under the START and now the New START treaties.
They are specifically to avoid building new weapons - if we can model the degradation we can be confident that the current arsenal is intact and functional so does not need replacement.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

rbmyers (587296) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661460)

Anyone who thinks that planning World War III based on model calculations is a good idea is probably already safely behind barbed wire at one of our bomb labs. Nothing short of the commencement of actual hostilities or the resumption of nuclear testing is going to resolve anything. We are stuck paying blackmail in perpetuity to a program whose success cannot be proven or disproven, short of Armageddon or a dangerous step toward it.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662904)

Resumption of physical nukes testing wouldn't resolve anything. And the only thing that commencement of actual hostilities would resolve would be everything. We are stuck no matter what we do, now that the cat's out of the bag. And as we develop ever more ways to quickly release lots of energy, especially at a distance, especially cheaply, we're going to be stuck with lots more cats.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

rbmyers (587296) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663284)

There have been specific issues that could have been resolved by underground testing on which a great deal of money and computer time has been spent. At a MINIMUM, LLNL would no longer have an excuse for the NIF boondoggle.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663332)

And there are specific problems that would be reborn if we resumed physical testing. Like the problems that N Korea is deliberately causing by doing so. All the budget boondoggles are worth avoiding actually detonating nukes, which always brings the world closer to detonating them near people.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

rbmyers (587296) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663450)

In order to believe that the sandbox exercises at the bomb labs serve any purpose whatsoever, you have to believe that, tomorrow, if you needed to launch a fusillade from an SSBN, you could do so with the reasonable assurance that the iffy warheads on the Trident D5's that would be launched would work to the extent that the possibility of a retaliatory response is negligible. I don't believe that any such assurance is currently available, and I don't see the situation improving in any way with the passage of time. On the contrary, there will be less and less reason to be certain of anything because the critical components will not have been tested for decades. Simply spending money writing reports isn't going to change anything.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662884)

I'd like to see a reliable budget explanation of how much is spent on modeling the degradation of the arsenal. Vs how much is spent the development of new weapons by modeling simulated tests on stored data from old tests, under the old weapons test ban treaties.

I'm not at all confident that any of what we do, including the original production, has ever given us a working arsenal of nukes. But if our enemies and rivals believe we've got one, that's good enough for me. Indeed, given the proliferation, sabotage and accident probabilities over time, I'd rather have nothing but simulations and belief in them than the real thing.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663252)

I'd like to see a reliable budget explanation of how much is spent on modeling the degradation of the arsenal. Vs how much is spent the development of new weapons by modeling simulated tests on stored data from old tests, under the old weapons test ban treaties.

The programs I linked to are purely simulation. I expect their budgets are public info.

Re:Arms Race? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661410)

Maybe ARM can get into supercomputers?

Re:Arms Race? (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661426)

it's an imaginary race this time.

the reality is that lots of people can have legitimate and good uses for supercomputers. to try to add anything about "This takes away from research" when this is research by definition, is idiotic.

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661454)

If the Supercomputer race wanted to race wouldn't they need to grow legs more than arms?

Re:Arms Race? (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661456)

If you're familiar with EAR and ITAR you will know that software can be classified as a munition. It's not such a leap to think of computers as arms.

Re:Arms Race? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661574)

My computer is a cloud-based tera-core, tera-flop Beowolf cluster of nodes running 1024-bit GNU/Linux with 64 QB (quadrillion bytes) of plankton for high-speed, fault-tolerant, self-replicating SuperRAID primary storage all powered by the energy of the sun, actually solar powered not burning gas powered. Afterall, my supercomputer is enviromentally-friendly and 100% recyclable.

PETA & Arms Race (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | more than 3 years ago | (#34660946)

PETA doesn't want anymore arms used against defensless animals, or inevitably more animals will flop on the ground.

Re:PETA & Arms Race (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661672)

PETA doesn't want anymore arms used against defensless animals, or inevitably more animals will flop on the ground.

Humans are defenseless animals compared to SKYNET. All we need to do is to create a computer that sees humanity for what it is, we are doomed.

This is how a superpower dies (4, Insightful)

mewsenews (251487) | more than 3 years ago | (#34660970)

If another country starts to outshine you, try changing the rules.

America's strength used lie in an immense manufacturing culture, and that's given way to "intellectual property". Instead of dealing with tangibles, America is content to sit behind a desk and let the Chinese labour.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661024)

No. It's creating more fear of the outside World: terrorism, other countries "attacking" us, others getting "ahead" of us, an infinitum.

Nuclear war and the Soviets are gone. Our leaders need other bogeymen - their version of "Goldstein" - to keep us in fear. Because those of us who have been educated outside of the corporate system - any type of education that doesn't train one for a vocation - fear is how you control the little people. Apparently the scare of terrorists and Muslims aren't enough.

If the rules are stupid, then you change them (1, Troll)

Brannon (221550) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661038)

If you honestly think that the US can't cable together thousands of US GPU's in order to set yet another meaningless Linpack milestone, then you are not that bright.

Re:If the rules are stupid, then you change them (2)

jbssm (961115) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661342)

If you honestly think that the US can't cable together thousands of US GPU's in order to set yet another meaningless Linpack milestone, then you are not that bright.

US GPU's? Funny, I thought they where all manufactured in China. Oh let me check my NVIDIA GTX 570 box ... yeah that's right, they ARE made in China.

Re:If the rules are stupid, then you change them (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661518)

The board is assembled in China. For semiconductor production (the actual GPU) NVIDIA uses Global Foundaries, a US company. Their newest facility and the most advanced fab in the world is not far from where my brother lives.

http://fab2construction.com/ [fab2construction.com]

Re:If the rules are stupid, then you change them (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661906)

Global Foundries is now owned by a UAE consortium, Abu Dhabi's Advanced Technology Investment Co.,, AMD sold it off. NVidia is manufactured by TSMC not GF anyways.
Fab 1 is in Dresden, Germany
Fab 7 is in Singapore
Fab 8 is the one being built in Saratoga County, New York
Other fabs used to be owned by Chartered Semiconductor.

TSMC is in Taiwan.
So far neither AMD/ATI nor Nvidia have had any GPUs made by GF.

Re:If the rules are stupid, then you change them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661544)

LOL!! You're such a moron it isn't even funny....

Fair enough (2)

Brannon (221550) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662276)

China does the manufacturing--but the chips are designed in the US by US companies. Those companies chose to locate their manufacturing in China because labor is so cheap there.

None of this addresses the main point, that Linpack isn't a particularly useful metric.

Re:Fair enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34662496)

They are designed in the US. The Chinese modify the masks to add the back door for PLA surveillance (a little circuit that allows code to run in ring 0 or kernel space works just nicely), then gets them into silicon.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (3, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661048)

Why would any American want to change that? Look at how people get to live right now: no need to choose between having a computer, having a cell phone, or having a nice pair of shoes; you can have them all, because they are cheap, because they are produced in countries where wages are low. Something is broken? Don't fix it -- just replace it! Cheap!

Sure, eventually it will all come crashing down and we'll all get a rude awakening, but until that happens, I do not think anyone will want to change the current system.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661258)

It's already come crashing down, it's just that most of the country doesn't realize it and out News Orgs and political leaders are too cowardly to tell them.

http://grandfather-economic-report.com/debt-gdp-1916-2008.jpg ...and if you're wondering what that first peak is in 1933, that would be the great depression.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661554)

It's worth pointing out that due to their currency manipulation policies over the last several years, China have been near begging for more US government bonds to be issued - demanding that they be allowed to lend more money regardless of how low a rates get.

You manipulate a currency by setting a price for it against another currency, and committing to buy at that price, no matter what. So if you want the yuan low against the dollar, you've just committed to buying wtflolhuge amounts of dollars, and you can't sell them again without undoing the price you've tried to set up. In that situation your only choice is to invest the cash, and where else but the US can you lend out dollars in such vast quantities?

If somebody is desperate to give you money and will happily lend it at trivially cheap rates, you'd be insane to turn them down. Unlike China, the US government can invest dollars in internal projects.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (0)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661794)

It's already come crashing down, it's just that most of the country doesn't realize it and out News Orgs and political leaders are too cowardly to tell them. http://grandfather-economic-report.com/debt-gdp-1916-2008.jpg [grandfathe...report.com] ...and if you're wondering what that first peak is in 1933, that would be the great depression.

After looking at your graph, I made a correlation between it and when the the Federal Reserve came into being. The first big jump occurred around WWI, culminating in the depression. With the gold standard in place, even the Korean war and Viet Nam war (yes it was a war, not a police action) did little to affect the GDP. However, when the US dropped the coupling of the currency to the gold standard, whoosh.
Just Google it and you will see what I mean.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661444)

How do you figure it'll come crashing down? Most manufacturing will simply move to automation locally (ever see the robotic system Caterpiller uses to build Diesel engines in Ohio with only a handful of people? Pure awesome).

Building things can always be fully automated. Research and critical thinking? Not so much.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661778)

But supercomputers are supposed to automate large parts of research. Imagine modelling a whole planet system coming into being from a stellar dust cloud without computers!

Re:This is how a superpower dies (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662318)

you can have them all, because they are cheap, because they are produced in countries where wages are low.....Sure, eventually it will all come crashing down and we'll all get a rude awakening, but until that happens, I do not think anyone will want to change the current system.

Typical of America: we overdo something until it springs back and tags us in the face.
   

How a Superpower Rules (4, Informative)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661240)

The advice to the president doesn't change rules for "fastest supercomputer". It tells the president not to be suckered into a supercomputer race measured on only the FLOPS, but rather on more useful performance measures. Because getting sidetracked into less useful metrics to see who's winning the race will waste US resources in winning the race, but not producing the most useful computer. And the US interest is in producing the most useful computer, not in nominally winning the race.

In fact, that report says "let China dominate the Top500, if the US still has the better computers". Which is exactly what I want the US doing, and what I prefer China to be doing rather than leaving the US behind in actual usefulness.

But if you want to get caught up in "the USA is dead" trip that leads into traps that actually would hurt the US if acted on, go ahead. You're not having any effect on the US supercomputer effort.

Re:How a Superpower Rules (1)

UBfusion (1303959) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663218)

There is substance and there are appearances and perceived effect (within US and globally).

Being #1 in supercomputer power is the 2010 perceived equivalent of technological superiority as was the 1969 landing of the first man on the Moon. I may not be an expert on NASA history, but I bet that there were big debates at the time whether the latter was actually a "useful performance measure" or a "waste of US resources".

In such a perspective the boundaries between substance, appearances and theater (as is insightfully suggested in some of the comments) can get very blurry.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (1)

CmdrTacoisafag (1963174) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661266)

That true because after all - America doesn't make anything anymore and we don't export anything either. (hint if you think this is the case, please - for the love of god - don't breed).

Re:This is how a superpower dies (0)

harrytuttle777 (1720146) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661356)

So What you are saying is that America is now the master of bullshit. Are most respected individuals are all bullshit artists (lawyers) and pop stars We spend hours each night listening to the television tell us about bullshit. We can't make anything so we bullshit ourselves and believe we are now in the 'information economy'.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661514)

It seems like this is the natural progression of a wealthy state, not a fringe case of the US being lazy. Western Europe isn't much getting their hands dirty either. Because they're rich too.

Yes, if we ever reach a certain level of global economic balance, things will probably start to level out. But that's either very far off or downright impossible.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34662110)

> This is how a superpower dies
> If another country starts to outshine you, try changing the rules.
> America's strength used lie in an immense manufacturing culture

The rules are in a continual state of flux. There was a time where the strongest civilization was the one with the most bronze, or grain, or steel, or coal. But as other civilizations got enough of those things, those materials were no longer as important a factor. You still need a certain amount of some of them as a pre-requisite for greatness, but it's not the sole determinant anymore. You lose power if you stay the same; you lose power if you miss the change.

Manufacturing by mass physical labor has been less and less important over the last few decades; much of the world has already industrialized, such that the industrialized nations can produce the same quality and quantity as their peers. Manufacturing hasn't "left" the US - it still produces an immense amount of stuff - but it's no longer the primary indicator of a nation's power.

Personally, I'd say it isn't any one thing right now. Access to energy is high priority (you need it for everything else important, and you can get rich even if you have ONLY energy and nothing else). Access to electronics would be another one, since, again, you need it to do a lot of stuff and to keep moving forward. Expertise in general would be a third leg; again, you need it to do the other stuff and to do new stuff. Note that by these criteria, we're already settling into a multipolar (politically/economically) world, because many regions excel at all three and many other regions are gaining competence.

I couldn't tell you exactly what the next thing-to-have will be. Anything that makes energy cheaper and more plentiful is a terrific game-changer at this point. Everything else that comes to mind is knowledge-and-technology based. Certain nanotech, biotech, and AI advances would be incredible advantages to whoever gets there first, and could possible be the trigger for pulling into the lead for a few decades.

Re:This is how a superpower dies (3, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662480)

America's strength used lie in an immense manufacturing culture, and that's given way to "intellectual property". Instead of dealing with tangibles, America is content to sit behind a desk and let the Chinese labour.

The problem is not "intellectual property", the problem is service economy. Manufacturing, no matter what you're producing, be it cars or blueprints for them, creates value. Service jobs don't. That's why they pay so badly. As economy increasingly gets all of its growth from services, rather than industry, the amount of stuff - also known as wealth - circulating does not grow. That is why we are seeing so much economic problems.

The Western world is de-industrializing as all manufacturing jobs are moved to China, and design jobs are following since few people can actually do them well. We are simply returning to the pre-industrial situation where the only ones who have significant amount of wealth are the nobles, and they are so much richer than everyone else that they have a practical monopoly on power as well. Whether this was by design or by accident I can't say, but whichever the reason, the increasing poverty and destruction of Western civilization is in the best interests of our overlords, so it will continue.

Oh well, another few millenias under ruthless Chinese dictators. When they take over I at least hope they reward our traitors as a traitor deserves. A pity for the children, thought; good thing I don't have them.

Oscar worthy comment (1)

UBfusion (1303959) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663172)

If another country starts to outshine you, try changing the rules.

Is this Rule 2012?

I nominate your comment for an Oscar in the "2010 most insightful Slashdot comments" category.

Curses! (3, Funny)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34660992)

We cannot allow a Supercomputer gap!

Re:Curses! (1)

bosef1 (208943) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661198)

Which, of course, is compounded by the looming "Minesweeper" gap.

Re:Curses! (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661832)

We cannot allow a Supercomputer gap!

When so many countries have super-computers, how do you do a dis-super-computer-ment, to stem the rampant super-computer proliferation?
Think of the children (OLPC)

Chapter 1 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34660998)

September 16, 1991. Today it finally began! After all these years of talking and nothing but talking we have finally taken our first action. We are at war with the System, and it is no longer a war of words.

I cannot sleep, so I will try writing down some of the thoughts which are flying through my head.

It is not safe to talk here. The walls are quite thin, and the neighbors might wonder at a latenight conference. Besides, George and Katherine are already asleep. Only Henry and I are still awake, and he’s just staring at the ceiling.

I am really uptight. l am so jittery I can barely sit still. And I’m exhausted. I’ve been up since 5:30 this morning, when George phoned to warn that the arrests had begun, and it’s after midnight now. I’ve been keyed up and on the move all day.

But at the same time I’m exhilarated. We have finally acted! How long we will be able to continue defying the System, no one knows. Maybe it will all end tomorrow, but we must not think about that. Now that we have begun, we must continue with the plan we have been developing so carefully ever since the Gun Raids two years ago.

What a blow that was to us! And how it shamed us! All that brave talk by patriots, "The government will never take my guns away," and then nothing but meek submission when it happened.

On the other hand, maybe we should be heartened by the fact that there were still so many of us who had guns then, nearly 18 months after the Cohen Act had outlawed all private ownership of firearms in the United States. It was only because so many of us defied the law and hid our weapons instead of turning them in that the government wasn’t able to act more harshly against us after the Gun Raids.

I’ll never forget that terrible day: November 9, 1989. They knocked on my door at five in the morning. I was completely unsuspecting as I got up to see who it was.

Read more... [avrtech.com]

Re:Chapter 1 (1)

Iceykitsune (1059892) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661054)

Warning: PDF!

Re:Chapter 1 (1)

.tekrox (858002) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661312)

OH NOES

War races (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661010)

At difference with War Games, playing is the only way that everyone wins.

Re:War races (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661864)

At difference with War Games, playing is the only way that everyone wins.

However, a glitch in the form factor on CPU APN/25689721/2A (Made in China) calculates that the game is winnable, ..
Initiate countdown...
Launch all missiles...

True to an extent (4, Insightful)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661014)

If you really need to crunch a lot of numbers and are willing to spend a lot to do it, it often makes more sense to develop an ASIC or FPGA type solution. I know the EFF put together a key cracking system for $250,000 that would probably still blow modern supercomputers out of the water for that specific application.

Re:True to an extent (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661182)

http://www.conveycomputer.com/products.html

People realize that and have created a not absurdly expensive solution.

Re:True to an extent (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661992)

Nah, just get a fast GPU and use this [arstechnica.com] .

And while we're at it (2)

hammarlund (568027) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661036)

"Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!"

Re:And while we're at it (1, Insightful)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661666)

The president is already shafting anybody with a mind.

Re:And while we're at it (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661870)

"Mr. President, we must not allow a mineshaft gap!"

"Mr. President, we must not allow a goatse gap!"

so will the public have (cheap) access? (1)

monkyyy (1901940) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661068)

while they are sitting there doing nothing waiting for cyber mutual assured destruction

When spending money on a supercomputer (1)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661070)

When spending money on a supercomputer, wouldn't you do it to do something useful with it? I'm sure if it gets built, it's built and optimized for a certain purpose other than just being in spot 1 of the Top500 list. On the other hand, if someone does spend the money on a supercomputer purely to have it be in spot 1, well, it's their money and their choice...

Idle time (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661100)

A lot of supercomputers are not used to their fullest extent; often, this is because scientists either do not know how to program a supercomputer, or do not have enough data, or have computations that are not easily parallelized. Some supercomputer centers have started renting their time to Wall St. firms, because there is not enough demand from scientists or engineers.

Re:Idle time (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661170)

Dan Brown led me to believe the Gov't used their supercomputers to break encryption on emails and other net traffic to catch various criminals.

But then again, thats probably too smart an Idea to have actually been implemented.

Re:Idle time (2)

hardburn (141468) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661394)

You only see that in Dan Brown novels because it's too dumb of an idea to be actually implemented. Short of a massive breakthrough in computer speeds that they've somehow managed to keep secret, even all the secret government supercomputers in the world would have a hard time breaking AES-128 or RSA-4096 in a reasonable amount of time.

If the government needs to break somebody's crypto, it's done through side-channel attacks [xkcd.com] . Anything else is a waste of effort.

Do a quick calculation (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662072)

Let's suppose you can perform one AES128 decryption per millisecond. How many cores would you need to brute force a single key within a decade (keeping in mind that brute force is the only publicly known ciphertext-only attack on AES)? Now, how many cores does the world's fastest (known) supercomputer have?

There is a reason that only Dan Brown novels portray supercomputers breaking modern ciphers. It is true that the NSA is believed to have a very powerful supercomputer (or perhaps several) at its disposal, but I doubt that it is used to crack modern ciphers; more likely, they are using it to analyze non-encrypted data from all their signals intelligence work, or perhaps to derive as much information as possible from encrypted transmissions (where the transmission originated, when it was sent, how big it is was, etc.).

Hahahaa. external threats again. (0)

unity100 (970058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661074)

so that people can sleep like morons, forgetting that the current government is practicing a worse type of censorship and repression on all freedoms in collaboration with private interests - worldwide too. popping up one censorship method after another, pressurizing foreign governments to implement censorship laws, trying to label journalists who go 'out of line' as terrorists ....

just like it was with 'terror' an external threat needs to be invented so that all kinds of practices violating freedoms can be justified.

censorship ? we are doing it for security on internet.

Re:Hahahaa. external threats again. (1)

Godskitchen (1017786) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661132)

so that people can sleep like morons...

How do intelligent people sleep? I used to think that while I slept, I sipped tea (with both pinkies elevated), composed symphonies and pondered the financial situation over in France; but alas, my wife has informed me that I just drool into my pillow and mumble incoherently.

It's not the supercomputer, it's the software (4, Insightful)

pclminion (145572) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661088)

The "race" is not about the hardware. All modern supercomputers are massively clustered, using various shared memory architectures. The technology is commodity level, and even a small sum like $10 million can buy a SHITLOAD of hardware. The challenge, and the point of competition, is the creation of software technologies and algorithms to effectively make use of clustered hardware. It's a question of who has the best minds working on the software. The hardware is a given. People have constructed impressive massively parallel processors using game consoles, after all.

It's the programmers, not the supercomputer makers, who will make the difference in this "race."

Re:It's not the supercomputer, it's the software (1)

alexo (9335) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662258)

The technology is commodity level, and even a small sum like $10 million can buy a SHITLOAD of hardware.

Would you mind lending me a small sum?

Re:It's not the supercomputer, it's the software (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662724)

All modern supercomputers are massively clustered, using various shared memory architectures.

Actually, they do very little memory sharing because it doesn't scale at all. Shared memory systems top out at on the order of 1k cores, after which the memory backbone becomes just too damn expensive, even by supercomputer standards. Instead, supercomputers use message passing (especially various MPI implementations) over what is still very fast dedicated interconnect. Algorithms have to be very carefully written to take good advantage of that sort of system. (Some will actually have a mix of technologies, being essentially a cluster of smaller shared-memory machines, with the programming model being mainly OpenMP within each smaller unit, and MPI between them. But that's getting a bit esoteric and difficult to develop for.)

To my mind, it makes much sense (where possible) to split the program up into smaller pieces that can run pretty much independently on commodity hardware. That fits an awful lot of scientific and engineering problems, and scaling up to full datasets is just a matter of using more nodes. I've been doing such things successfully (using both clusters and the cloud) for some time now. The systems we use don't enter into the top500 but we've got access to lots of them, and can process full parameter sweeps and datasets quite fast enough to be really useful.

Yeah. (1)

Godskitchen (1017786) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661102)

'cuz we wouldn't want China to discover the eleventy-billionith prime number before we do.

Re:Yeah. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661160)

Oh, come on... everyone knows the eleventy-billionith digit of pi is way more important.

The Voice Of Reason. (1)

Toon Moene (883988) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661126)

'While it would be imprudent to allow ourselves to fall significantly behind our peers with respect to scientific performance benchmarks that have demonstrable practical significance, a single-minded focus on maintaining clear superiority in terms of flops count is probably not in our national interest,"

Now try to explain *that* to your TayPartists ...

Let's look at the bigger picture, why don't we? (2)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661162)

If we look at the top 10 on the TOP500 list [top500.org] , it's still pretty dominated by the USA:

1. Tianhe-1A (China)
2. Jaguar (USA, ORNL)
3. Nebulae (China)
4. TSUBAME (Japan)
5. Hopper (USA, LBNL)
6. Tera-100 (France)
7. Roadrunner (USA, LANL)
8. Kraken (USA, UT)
9. JUGENE (Germany)
10. Cielo (USA, LANL)

So, let's see -- half of the top ten are in the USA, two in China, two in Europe, and one in Japan. Granted, China is catching up (rapidly), but if you look beyond the #1 spot, the USA still pretty dominates the overall list. Expand this list out beyond the top ten [top500.org] , and SEVEN supercomputers from 11-20 are also in the USA (11-16 & 18), one is in Russia (17), and two in South Korea (19 & 20). So let's not all freak out here about China stealing the #1 and #3 slots on the list -- the USA still has quite a bit more computational resources than the Chinese,. . .

Re:Let's look at the bigger picture, why don't we? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34661396)

Whatever, commie. Amurica should be #1! Woooooo!

Re:Let's look at the bigger picture, why don't we? (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661994)

Whatever to you too. In the Top500 you are almost always only number 1 for 6 months, maybe a year top. It takes about that long for the next generation of CPU's to be available and someone to put just the same number of computers/processors together as you just did and have a 5-10% increase in overall speed. There comes a point where you have enough computing power to do whatever you are trying to do. And once you hit that point, a faster/more powerful supercomputer would not help you if it is sitting idle. I you can't fill your supercomputer with at least 60-70% average load 24x7 with peaks of 100% you are wasting it.

Re:Let's look at the bigger picture, why don't we? (2)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662030)

Yeah, but China's #1 system is the Tianhe-1A. 1A, which probably means it's the first one. Just wait until they get to 1B, 1C, etc. Alas, woe is us.

Re:Let's look at the bigger picture, why don't we? (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662364)

Actually, Tianhe-1 was their first, so Tianhe-1A is the second generation.

"Mr President, we face a petaflop gap" (1)

opencity (582224) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661176)

"The Republicans/Democrats/Whigs are dangerously naive about Soviet/Al Qaida/Chinese/Brazilian intentions regarding multicore MIMD instruction code. We must maintain supremacy in cyberspace to protect FREEDOM."

This would be almost as good as a bridge across the Pacific for keeping cold warriors busy.

This is progress (0)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661274)

The race to shave yet another hundred of a thousandth of a second when launching your Minesweeper game.

Ah... (0)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661376)

I love the warm, comforting smell of a "national security problem" that can be solved by giving IBM some of my money, rather than one of those genuinely difficult ones like flushing the peasants with small arms out of some sandbox hellhole or doing something that actually improves airline security, rather than harassing pilots who point out problems...

Lesser of 1.23 x 10^24 evils (0)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661572)

This is laughable, but I can't tell what is funnier:

The fact that the government thinks they know shit about computers,

or the fact that they think they can do it better than any other technologically-advanced country in the world right now.

Look who's here... (1)

emoreau (1247650) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661602)

Craig Mundie Chief Research and Strategy Officer Microsoft Corporation I thing Microsoft is tired of not being in the top500. They will promote new benchmarks instead of the ones that make them look bad. And there are rumours on Windows for ARM on servers. I say Mr. Mundie, I can see what your strategy is all about...

Linpack is crap (2)

Theovon (109752) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661632)

Ok, not entirely worthless. Linear algebra is used in loads and loads HPC workloads, but Linpack as a benchmark is NOT prepresentative of a typical real-world HPC workload. It focuses on peak flops, leaving behind things like inter-node bandwidth and latency, which are crucial for many important, real scientific supercomputing tasks.

Our CSE department chair recently quotes an article he read. To paraphrase, we're heading to the point where computation is going to be basically free, and what costs all the energy will be moving the data around. This is true for several reasons. One is the recent trend towards near-threshold computing. Ultra-low voltage (i.e. 400mV, when 900mV is nominal Vdd) can save 100x on power. It costs us 10x on speed, but now we can pack in 100x as many nodes into the same power and cooling budget, allowing for a 10x increase in aggregate throughput. But this works best for highly parallel and communication-heavy workloads. Fortunately, for many important areas (bombs, climate simulations, astronomy, real-time raytracing), this is the case. And moreover, people are getting better at parallelizing work.

Singularity (1)

BattleWaryMushroom (1964952) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661652)

is coming.

Mr. President, we must not allow... (1)

Chas (5144) | more than 3 years ago | (#34661712)

A mine shaft gap!

The race that matters... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662370)

isn't supercomputers, per se, but AI. The first country that develops scalable human-like AI wins. Period. End of story.

Naturally this isn't even on the *radar* of the leadership of the USA, whose government is dominated by lawyers and financiers, not engineers.

Re:The race that matters... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34662676)

And why do you think that is? I have a theory: Engineers are worthless pieces of apathetic shit. People joke about lawyers squeezing blood out of stone, but you could squeeze more empathy out of a stone than an engineer. It's a consequence of being a techno-techno - they only need priests now, and we're getting there, after all, what are "evangelists" if not the techno-techno priests? One day you'll be hailing the TechnoPope. Lawyers and financiers, on the other hand, are very good are pretending to be human. It works like a charm. I suppose it's because, unlike engineers, they used to be people.

I am therefore in favor of exterminating them all. Along with the lawyers, financiers, politicans, dentists, government officials of any and every kind, pre-school teachers, psychologists, sociologists, linguists and all other worthless scum. DEATH TO YE ALL!!!!

All hail the New Flesh.

Pull or push (1)

owlstead (636356) | more than 3 years ago | (#34662514)

It's about the same idea that some government in NL has to invest in fiber tech. Personally, I don't think that is the way to do it. The idea is to invest in internet content that *possibly* requires high speed internet. The high speed internet will follow. Of course, sometimes you have to push technology a bit as well. But the way to do that is investing in research and small scale try-outs. If the technology succeeds in the try-outs, leave it to the market to fill in demand. I think there are loads upon loads of specialized problems waiting for a supercomputer. Focus on those that need a specialized computer with specialized tech, and make initial investments to succeed in a non-commercial setup. The commercial applications will follow automatically if the tech becomes available.

Personally, I think that creating additional methods to measure speed are absolutely idiotic. They are only interesting to make yet another list of high speed computers. The only way to success is rather simply to solve problems, the computers themselves are only a means. Creating these lists is like comparing dicks, and that's a rather sad thing to do with scientific equipment.

Yawn... (1)

ka9dgx (72702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34663204)

It's so obvious how to blow the doors off the competition in this race... if everything is all hitting the limits of the Von Neuman wall... go around it with something like a BitGrid [blogspot.com] , which is a reconfigurable systolic array granular down to the bit level. Using the latest memristors with this idea it should be quite feasible to build Exaflop computers for the desktop.

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