Japan has chosen Fujitsu to help it regain the top spot in the global supercomputer race with an exascale machine, which at 1,000 petaflops would be about 30 times faster than the leading supercomputer today.
The electronics giant said Wednesday it will work with the Riken research center to come up with a basic design for the supercomputer that would succeed the K computer, a machine they co-developed that grabbed the No. 1 spot in June 2011.
Riken has a mandate from Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to develop a next-generation supercomputer, and said it chose Fujitsu following an open bidding process to develop a "post-K supercomputer."
Fujitsu will initially collaborate with Riken on a basic design, working towards beginning operation of the post-K computer supercomputer by April 2021.
The Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science did not specify a performance speed or other characteristics of the machine, which it is calling the FLAGSHIP 2020 Project.
Leaving the term "exascale" out of the name may indicate some doubt about how fast the machine will run. However, a MEXT document suggests the performance will be around 1 exaflops (floating-point operations per second), which is 1,000 petaflops or 1 quintillion calculations per second. That figure is 1 followed by 18 zeros.
While work on the specifications is only just beginning, the FLAGSHIP machine would have characteristics including a multi-core architecture with general-purpose CPUs, network interfaces embedded in CPU chips and multi-dimensional torus network topology inherited from the K computer, according to a Riken spokesman.
The computer would be used to tackle high-level simulations in nine priority areas set by MEXT that include drug discovery, earthquake and tsunami prediction systems, global environmental modeling and the creation of new high-performance materials.
The 10-petaflops K computer, which became fully operational in September 2012 after leading the Top500 supercomputer list, has been used in similar projects. It was recently used in research that involved an unprecedented 10,240 simultaneous simulations of global weather patterns, according to Riken.
An exascale computer, however, would set a new threshold in cutting-edge supercomputer development.
The U.S., China and European countries are also working to build exascale computing systems, but Japan has been clearer about its development timeline.
In June, Tianhe-2, a 33-petaflops supercomputer developed by China's National University of Defense Technology, retained its leading spot on the Top500 list, which is compiled twice a year. The U.S. has 233 systems on the list, China has 76 and Japan has 30.