China is moving quickly to solidify its lead in the world’s digital arms race. Last year, the country unveiled the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight (above). This year, according to state news agency Xinhua, the government has set its sights on completing the world’s first prototype exascale computer; a machine capable of making a billion, billion calculations per second.
“At 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second, exascale supercomputers will be able to quickly analyse massive volumes of data and more realistically simulate the complex processes and relationships behind many of the fundamental forces of the universe,” according to the the U.S, government. The prefix ‘exa’ — means a quintillion or a billion billion calculations each second is measured in exaflops and is said to be an exascale machine.
At the moment China is leading the way by owning the most powerful supercomputer in the world, the Sunway TaihuLight, which has a processing speed of 93 petaflops. At its peak, the computer can perform 93,000 trillion calculations per second.
China’s prototype computer will be ready before the end of the 2017, said Zhang, but the finished product won’t be operational for several years more. “A complete computing system of the exascale supercomputer and its applications can only be expected in 2020,” said Zhang. the Xinhua news agency reported Zhang Ting, an engineer at the country’s National Supercomputer Center, saying. “[It] will be 200 times more powerful than the country’s first petaflop computer Tianhe-1, recognized as the world’s fastest in 2010.”
The fastest supercomputers in the world can currently perform quadrillions — or thousands of trillions — calculations each second. A quadrillion is referred to using the prefix ‘peta’. So, the speed of these computers is calculated in petaflops, and computers operating at this level are referred to as petascale machines.
According to Chinese officials, one of the first glimpses of exascale technology may arrive this year. The country is planning on developing a prototype ‘super supercomputer’ that would be ready before other competitors. A number of nations — including Japan and the US — are planning to build exascale computers. The US Department of Energy says its current schedule is to have an exsacale system operational by 2023.