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Supercomputing Government Hardware Politics

Iran Builds Supercomputer From Banned AMD Parts 778

Posted by Zonk
from the maybe-they-fell-off-the-back-of-a-really-big-truck dept.
Stony Stevenson writes with the news that, despite a ban on US PC hardware, Iranian techs have built an enormously powerful supercomputer from 216 AMD processors. The Linux-cluster machine has a 'theoretical peak performance of 860 gig-flops'. "The disclosure, made in an undated posting on [the University of] Amirkabir's Web site, brought an immediate response Monday from AMD, which said it has never authorized shipments of products either directly or indirectly to Iran or any other embargoed country."
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Iran Builds Supercomputer From Banned AMD Parts

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  • by Schnoogs (1087081) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:08PM (#21657705)
    ...he now has the justification for invading Iran.

    Not only can they never be allowed to have nukes but it will be a cold day in hell before they are allowed to get the processing power to run Windows Vista!!!!!
  • Don't panic (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:08PM (#21657719)
    Folks, no need to panic or call for invasion just yet. They still have twenty two more letters before they can get from AMD to WMD.

  • by bealzabobs_youruncle (971430) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:09PM (#21657741)
    Intel Inside, at least we don't support terrorisim....
  • by jzarling (600712) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:10PM (#21657779)
    Im shocked that there may be resellers who are less than reputable!
  • by Sigismundo (192183) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:10PM (#21657787)
    Is it just a coincidence that their supercomputer has 216 processors which is 6 * 6 * 6 ???
  • by rockmuelle (575982) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:11PM (#21657799)
    10 years ago, yes. But, seriously, it takes only about $30k to build a tera-scale system with commodity parts. And, if single precision is OK, $2400 will get you 900 "gig-flops" worth of PS3s. Last time I went through Bahrain, you could buy those in the airport for your kids, so they shouldn't be too hard for the Iranian government to buy.

    Not sure what the story is here...

    -Chris
    • Not to mention that 215 processors is not exactly a lot.
    • by phoenixwade (997892) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:25PM (#21658109)

      10 years ago, yes. But, seriously, it takes only about $30k to build a tera-scale system with commodity parts. And, if single precision is OK, $2400 will get you 900 "gig-flops" worth of PS3s. Last time I went through Bahrain, you could buy those in the airport for your kids, so they shouldn't be too hard for the Iranian government to buy.

      Not sure what the story is here...

      -Chris
      My guess: The real story is that the joiurnalist and his/her editors couldn't wrap their noodles around the idea that that anyone except a select fer universities and think tanks could build a machine that can produce theoretical "Giga-"s.... And are equally clueless that the "Banned AMD technology" is anything more than commodity pc parts.....
  • 'Banned'? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stavr0 (35032) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:11PM (#21657809) Homepage Journal
    When's the last time AMD motherboard and CPUs have been manufactured in the US? AFAIK, they're all fab'd in Taiwan or China. These parts may never have entered of left the United States at all.
    • Re:'Banned'? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mr_mischief (456295) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:56PM (#21658747) Journal
      The company is still a US company, and is required to obey US law regardless of whether the chip fab is in the US, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, or Ireland. I've never seen an AMD chip fabbed in China.

      The ban on business with Iran goes well beyond military exports. It's a ban on business, period. It's called an embargo. It's to economically punish Iran for being enemies to the US and its allies.

      In case anyone hasn't noticed the course of the last 300 years of warfare, it's not the size of your population or the fealty of a few princes in neighboring cities that make a country powerful any longer. It's your economy. The size of your fleet of ships, tanks, planes, subs, helicopters, jeeps, and other vehicles is one key. The logistical support of modern electronics and a worldwide communications network is another these days. A distribution network for troops, equipment, and supplies is a third. The money to keep a standing army well trained is important. The more business you do with enemies or potential enemies, the stronger they can become militarily. All this has been the trend since at least the Industrial Revolution. It became a stark truth nobody could deny in the World Wars, especially WW II.

      This is why so many military people are interested in the US's levels of trade with China. We're not in a very friendly state with them, although relations are fairly solid. We send them more money every year, though, and their year-over-year growth in military spending is starting to closely follow the growth in the US/China trade imbalance. American consumers are supporting the Chinese military, and if they ever decide to assert that power against the US, it'll be those DVD players, dolls, lead-painted trains, and TVs that funded it. Relations with China are good enough right now, though, that it's kind of a long view type of mild concern. The Taiwan issue might change that some day, but China hasn't called for the death of the US, the UK, and Israel just yet, nor has their president denied the Holocaust.

      Iran, on the other hand, was ruled by a US ally. It was taken over by militant theocrats who held US citizens hostage for well over a year. Many of us still remember the yellow ribbons for those hostages. They have supported terrorists in Israel, and they are believed to be funding and supplying terrorists within Iraq. No, I don't mean insurgent freedom fighters. Insurgent freedom fighters don't blow up women and children at Mosques and in the marketplaces. Insurgent freedom fighters attack military personnel and military targets with minimal collateral damage to their own country's people and property. I believe there are some people in Iraq who really are trying to just fight against the US occupation, but there's something else going on there as well. Don't be fooled for a second into thinking that religiously ruled Shia Iran is keeping any money or weapons it supplies away from death squads killing Aramaic Christians, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds in the streets. If they are indeed placing weapons and supplies into Iraq as is claimed, it's surely to help the Shiite cause more than anything else.

      Why would a country so against what the US and our allies represent not be on a banned trading list? Hell, we still don't trade with Castro except for selling Cuba medicine and food. I still can't legally buy a Cuban cigar just because he nationalized a bunch of US-owned nightclubs and hotels and took the country socialist. Sure, Castro's a dictator, but when has that single fact ever stopped the US? I'd remove Cuba from the list long before Iran. Hell, we're even friendly with Libya now, and they blew up a Pam Am flight in the 80's. But Iran? No. Not under Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

      • Re:'Banned'? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Khuffie (818093) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @02:13PM (#21659067) Homepage
        Just to point out your history of Iran, please don't act like the US was clean. The US ally you referred to that ruled Iran was installed by the US government after an operation by the CIA to overthrow a freely elected leader. To Iran, the US is seen as terrorists, mostly for meddling with the sovereignty (sp?) of other nations.
  • More proof (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tshetter (854143)
    This is just one more instance of US foreign policy failing in its purpose and then acting to hurt America.

    Iran and Iranians can get their computers now and always have. You might as well have American companies making the money.

    Same thing with Cuba.

    Trade and diplomacy work much better than sanctions and war. You want Castro to fall? Flood Cuba with American tourists and artists.
  • by caffeine_monkey (576033) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:12PM (#21657823)
    I guess we'll expect to see Team Tehran moving up in the seti@home rankings.
  • Of course AMD has no clue, there are a large number of ways the parts were smuggled in. How is this news?
  • Silly Iranians. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:14PM (#21657869)

    Why do all that work to achieve a theoretical peak performance of 860 GFlops, when a IBM Cell [wikipedia.org] processor has a theoretical peak around 1000 GFlops?

    My point is that the theoretical maximum speed rating, all by itself, doesn't fully characterize the relevant performance of a given computer for the computations which it's intended to perform.

    Or maybe the Iranians really should just make a trip to Best Buy...

  • Cue the hawks in 3...2...1...
  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:16PM (#21657923) Homepage
    To just buy a cluster of Playstation 3s [physorg.com], especially since they do have Gigabit ethernet and Linux toolflows.
  • Good for them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sylvak (967868) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:17PM (#21657955)
    Seriously, I'm getting tired of governments who are scaring their citizens about Iran's threat to this world. I'm glad they were able to achieve this despite all the embargoes against them.
  • by flabbergast (620919) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:19PM (#21658005)
    "The Iranian supercomputer falls far behind the world's fastest computers. In November, the BlueGene/L System, jointly developed by IBM and the U.S. Department of Energy was ranked No. 1 in the world with a benchmark performance of 478.2 teraflops. A teraflop equals a trillion calculations per second."

    Indeed, the article mentions at the end that it falls far behind the rest of the world. In fact, to make the Top 500 this year you had to have a supercomputer worthy of 5.9 Teraflops.
  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:21PM (#21658017)
    This tells me that there are university professors and students who are passionate about hi-tech. That passion is a productive alternative to the other model we have of Iran as a bunch of wild eyed fundamentalists who want to bomb the world back to the 8th century. Perhaps this competing force of moderation in Iran will grow its influence through hi tech and universities.
  • by Zaphod-AVA (471116) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:26PM (#21658139)
    This is notable because it is the largest amount of computer power assembled that will never be used to collect porn.
  • by GnarlyDoug (1109205) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:31PM (#21658217)
    Computer chips are now commodities. Back in the day they weren't, but the times moved on. Trying to ban computer chips from reaching anyone who wants to buy them is like trying to ban corn, oil, gas, rice, or soybeans. It's just not going to happen. These computer chips are sold around the world in bulk quantities at low prices. In addition most of these things aren't even manufactured on US soil anymore.

    The idea that you can somehow 'ban' a country from getting ahold of a commodity is ludicrious and stupid. The only way you could really do that would be to effectively seal and close their borders militarily and embargo them to the point that you controlled all of their travel and trade outside of their borders. Good luck with that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151)
      "Trying to ban computer chips from reaching anyone who wants to buy them is like trying to ban corn, oil, gas, rice, or soybeans."

      Those are easier to interdict because they are bulk products. A shipping container of computer parts is small and easy to send most anywhere.
  • by pembo13 (770295) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:32PM (#21658225) Homepage
    Why Iran is not (apparently) allowed to have nuclear energy, or high powered computers? Have they ever detonated a computer guided nuclear weapon in someone else's country?
    • ultimate power rests in a bunch of grumpy old men who believe they have a monopoly on determining what god wants

      that doesn't bother you?

      whether pro-usa, or anti-usa, or pro-israel, or anti-israel, this should bother you, regardless

      i'm sorry, but in this world, very little concepts frighten me more than a theocracy with nukes

      and i'm not talking about the loose propagandistic label of "theocracy" one might apply to say, the usa, because the current president (who will soon be gone) is a conservative southern baptist. i'm talking about an actual, stated, as clearly implied in the constitution, theocracy. as in, our government serves god and those unelected grumpy old men over there interpret what he wants. the real deal, a real genuine clearly stated theocracy

      any rational human being should feel threatened by a theocracy with nukes. regardless of any of your other concerns in the middle east, or any of your other politics in general

      http://www.iranonline.com/iran/iran-info/Government/constitution.html [iranonline.com]

      Article 2

      The Islamic Republic is a system based on belief in:

      1.the One God (as stated in the phrase "There is no god except Allah"), His exclusive sovereignty and the right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands;
      2.Divine revelation and its fundamental role in setting forth the laws;
      3.the return to God in the Hereafter, and the constructive role of this belief in the course of man's ascent towards God;
      4.the justice of God in creation and legislation;
      5.continuous leadership (imamah) and perpetual guidance, and its fundamental role in ensuring the uninterrupted process of the revolution of Islam;
      6.the exalted dignity and value of man, and his freedom coupled with responsibility before God

      • by bareman (60518) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @03:57PM (#21661017) Homepage Journal
        How exactly is their form of government supposed to be any more of a threat with nuclear weapons than any other form of governance which posseses nuclear weapons? Why is a constitutional theocracy more dangerous to the world than a 'democracy' ruled by theocrats?

        Are the leaders of a theocracy any less motivated by desire for wealth and power? Are they more suicidal than a theocrat, or any other politician, ruling a democracy?

        I haven't seen anything in your argument showing why a theocracy is more of a danger with nukes beyond using "theocracy" as a magic fearphrase like "think-of-the-children" etc.

  • Cause for concern (Score:4, Insightful)

    by acb (2797) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:49PM (#21658585) Homepage
    Iran has vowed to annihilate Israel, which is an (undeclared) nuclear power. It would be impossible for Iran to have anything resembling a chance of doing so without effective nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them, and impossible to get a nuke working reliably without testing it. (Imagine if you're Ahmadine-Jihad and your nuke misfires, showering undetonated uranium over downtown Tel Aviv; not only has your glorious jihad failed before it ever began, but you are, to all intents and purposes, screwed.)

    Were Iran to test a nuclear weapon in real life, they would get noticed pretty quickly (the seismic readings would see to that), and a preemptive strike would soon follow. (Once there is no doubt that the Iranians are working on nuclear weapons, there'd be little resistance to ensure that they don't succeed; it's not only the US, Europe and Israel who are worried, but their Sunni Islamic neighbours, regarded by them as apostates, are none too comfortable with a nuclear-armed Iran. Add to that Ahmadine-Jihad's support of the concept of martyrdom (the Iranian government actually recruits suicide bombers for jihadist attacks against US/Jewish/Sunni interests), and you've got the sort of nuclear power that can't be trusted to do the sensible thing and sit on its nukes as a defensive weapon of last resort.

    As such, supercomputing power of this sort would be vitally important in running nuclear simulations and perfecting a bomb.
  • Before you panic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bigsexyjoe (581721) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:50PM (#21658605)
    The purpose of this machine is forecasting and meteorological research, which imho is a reasonable thing for the nation of Iran to do. Granted this just what they say the computer is for, but we only know about it because they announced that they built it. If it was a computer that designed nuclear weapons (or whatever), we can assume they wouldn't tell anyone about it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Volante3192 (953645)
      Or they announce they have it, so if inspectors come by they're not shocked by this 216 processor beast and going "You never declared you had this! Nuclear tests! Nuclear tests!!"

      Easier to swap out programs (even if it means interrupting a test) than it is hiding a computer.

      Just sayin as a counterpoint...
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @01:55PM (#21658709) Homepage

    Most US nuclear weapons were designed using computers under 1 MIPS. Even the fusion bombs. About 40 years ago, I was visiting a UNIVAC 1105 installation (the biggest all-vacuum-tube computer ever built as a commercial product, designed when Gen. Leslie Groves was at UNIVAC), and they'd done some work on bomb design. It took about two days per run, and they'd run the program at the same time some other location was running it. Every three hours, the console typewriter would print out a checksum, and they'd phone the other location to see if it matched. If not, they had to back up to the last checkpoint tape and restart.

    This huge machine was comparable in power to a PC/AT with an FPU chip; a good 1985 desktop.

    The silly thing about export controls on computers is that the U.S. Government keeps increasing the control threshold for "supercomputers". The current threshold is 750 gigaflops, which is a few racks of servers. In 1995, it was 2 gigaflops, or about where a low-end PC is today. Back in 1987, there was a big flap when Iran tried to get hold of a VAX 8600, which is about 0.005 gigaflops. But bomb design isn't getting any more difficult.

    Any modern laptop can do the calculations necessary for bomb design. Deal with it.

  • part of their resistance to giving up their nuke program rests squarely on simply being insulted that they should listen to anyone but themselves about what to do

    ok, fine, i respect that independence and fierce pride

    however, i don't think i could be very proud of myself if my tech consisted of stuff i stole from my archnemesis. national pride i think must rest on something stronger than "ha ha! i stole your stuff!"
  • by DieByWire (744043) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @03:01PM (#21660031)

    Since they're using AMD, this should be an easy target to visit with your basic heat seeking missile.

    Unless, of course, the signature overwhelms the sensor.

  • by Troy Baer (1395) on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @03:06PM (#21660117) Homepage

    So the Iranians strung together 216 previous-gen 2GHz Opterons... Big freaking deal. This is not exactly rocket science; it's all off-the-shelf commodity stuff, both hardware and software. I know several university research groups that have more computing power than that, let alone supercomputer centers.

    If they field a machine in the tens of teraflops, *then* there might be some cause for alarm...

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