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Supercomputing IBM The Almighty Buck Technology Politics

IBM Warns of China Closing the Supercomputer Gap 238

Posted by Soulskill
from the big-blue-vs-big-red dept.
eldavojohn writes "China is digging a massive hole to house a computer building with the intent of usurping the United States' lead in the field of supercomputing, claims IBM. As of earlier this year, Oak Ridge Lab was beating China's Shenzhen Center. But now, an IBM representative has said to a Washington, DC forum, 'You have sovereign nations making material investments of a tremendous magnitude to basically eat our lunch, eat our collective lunch.' China has long been a contender in this regard, and Europe and Japan have similar goals to build an exascale supercomputer. To achieve this by 2020, the US will need to focus on 'co-design,' where hardware is developed in tandem with every other aspect of the computer, from applications down to optics. This isn't the first time a 'space race' style supercomputing push has been spurred by international competitiveness."
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IBM Warns of China Closing the Supercomputer Gap

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  • To compute what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:26AM (#33686940) Homepage

    So everyone's trying to make a big, fast computer.

    What's at stake? What does the winner win?

    • by hsmith (818216)
      Exactly

      The US is borrowing $1.5trillion a year, why should we borrow more money from the Chinese to build a supercomputer to "battle" them - over what?
      • by RenderSeven (938535) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:54AM (#33687342)
        Well duh! We need that kind of compute power to keep track of the debt.
      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:56AM (#33687368) Journal
        The dickwaving over who has the biggest supercomputer seems largely like hype stirred up to enhance IBM's shareholder value; but if you are going to make a dubiously sensible investment in expensive toys, doing it with borrowed money is, in some ways, preferable to doing it with real money.

        The huge debts that sovereign nations tend to rack up trigger the same moral instincts that petty consumer debt does; but it isn't at all clear that they work anything like the same way, economically.

        China: "Dear US, we are cashing in the giant pile of debt you owe us."
        US: "Shucks, China, it looks like we spent all our money on increasingly elaborate pyramid schemes and shitty exurbs that nobody wants. Anyway, thanks for all the free stuff over the years, and I hope you don't find the sudden transition from high-employment export economy to moderate-unemployment internal economy too jarring... TTLGTG!"
        • China: "Dear US, we are cashing in the giant pile of debt you owe us." US: "Shucks, China, it looks like we spent all our money on increasingly elaborate pyramid schemes and shitty exurbs that nobody wants. Anyway, thanks for all the free stuff over the years, and I hope you don't find the sudden transition from high-employment export economy to moderate-unemployment internal economy too jarring... TTLGTG!"

          I'm no economist, but I think you're spot on. It's not like China can "cash out" and repossess our SUV's if we can't pay. We simply can't pay, the cash is gone. All China can really do is stop lending to us. Which would be catastrophic for the US, and a smaller but still really big problem for the rest of the world.

          The worst thing they could do is dump our debt to other countries for cheap, which I think would serve to devalue our currency quite a bit. Because so much of the global economy is based aro

        • by TheLink (130905) on Friday September 24, 2010 @10:18AM (#33687728) Journal

          The huge debts that sovereign nations tend to rack up trigger the same moral instincts that petty consumer debt does; but it isn't at all clear that they work anything like the same way, economically.

          It should be clear and obvious they don't work the same way. After all, the US owes China in US dollars, not Euros, not RMB.

          So it's more like an amusement park owing suppliers massive debts payable in amusement park tokens (except amusement park tokens cost more to make than "electronic" US dollars).

          Or like you owing trillions in fuzzyfuzzyfungus dollars. You can create as many as you need. Sure the smart ones may never lend you money again, but maybe the smart ones wouldn't have lent you trillions payable in fuzzyfuzzyfungus dollars right? So the dumb ones might actually say "thank you!" when you go up to them and repay them :).

          As long as the dollar remains the main currency used to trade oil and other commodities, the USA gets a cheap/free ride. The people who keep saying "the USA would be better off with the gold standard" should consider this and other important factors :).

          • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday September 24, 2010 @10:43AM (#33688058) Journal
            It's not that simple. If the USA did print enough dollars to repay the debt to China, then it would seriously inflate the dollar. That would make other people very wary about holding debts in dollars (although it would make a lot of third-world countries happy - they'd be able to repay their debts easily all of a sudden), and the USA would find it very difficult to borrow in the future, which would affect infrastructure. It would also affect the purchasing power of the average American, meaning that the cost of all imported goods would go up (in dollar terms), not just those from China. Anticipation of the last step is why a lot of large companies are trying hard to build markets in the EU, India and Russia - they don't want to be hit when Americans can't afford their products anymore.
            • by TheLink (130905)

              It's not that simple. If the USA did print enough dollars to repay the debt to China, then it would seriously inflate the dollar.

              Then the dollar should be seriously inflating now right? Because the US owes China "only" about 2 trillion. While it sure looks like the USA has created more than 2 trillion USD since 2008.

              See: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=apx7XNLnZZlc [bloomberg.com]
              December 12, 2008
              "The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral."

              While some may claim t

    • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:35AM (#33687070)

      So everyone's trying to make a big, fast computer.

      What's at stake?

      Bragging rights? China beats IBM, we can no longer say that we're the most technologically advanced country and that's what I want. If that happens, maybe we'll get a boost in science education like post-Sputnik.

      What does the winner win?

      The best and brightest immigrants?

      • by curmudgeous (710771) on Friday September 24, 2010 @10:00AM (#33687440)

        Bragging rights? China beats IBM, we can no longer say that we're the most technologically advanced country and that's what I want. If that happens, maybe we'll get a boost in science education like post-Sputnik.

        IBM is not an American company. They've said so repeatedly, every time they been asked about all the thousands of jobs they've off-shored.

        What they ARE, though, is a large multi-national trying to stir up fear and pseudo-patriotism in the hopes of snagging huge, profitable government contracts for projects to build things we really don't need right now.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          "Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains."
          --Thomas Jefferson

      • by V!NCENT (1105021)

        China beats IBM, we can no longer say that we're the most technologically advanced country and that's what I want.

        Most advanced? Crunching more floating points? Seriously...

        What a bunch of two year old politics this is...

        We're all living on the same planet, remember? I thought the internet was blurring borders...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hythlodaeus (411441)

        China beats IBM, we can no longer say that we're the most technologically advanced country and that's what I want. If that happens, maybe we'll get a boost in science education like post-Sputnik.

        We don't need more science education (except maybe educating legislators). We need more science investment and employment to clear out the backlog of science postdocs that have been educated in numbers far in excess of jobs that require that sort of qualification.

        • by hey! (33014)

          Well, that's the peace dividend for you. We used to "stockpile" physics PhDs like they were bomb warheads. The rate slacked off after 1970, picking up briefly during the Reagan administration.

          But we still have the giant physicist factories fully manned because with tenure there isn't really an effective way to dismantle them.

      • by melted (227442)

        The US is still going to be the most technologically advanced country whether they build this computer or not. They build it out of technologies invented here in the US after all.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by klingens (147173)

      The biggest, baddest nuclear bombs, the deadliest engineered plagues, the shortest cryptography decryption times and the goodwill of all mankind (everybody is very very nice to you if you have the aforementioned weapons).

      • We already have bioweapons and nukes; what difference does it make when the warheads are a few megatons more powerful than before? We're all dead anyways. It sounds to me like this is more national penis comparison than deadly threat.
        • by Magada (741361)

          Speaking of designer viruses, how about a non-lethal bioweapon? Would unleashing a highly-contagious designer flu virus that decreases the productivity of everyone infected by 50% for three months without killing anyone warrant a nuclear response?

          Yet such an attack would surely cripple the economy.

    • by Binder (2829)

      Primarily, bragging rights... but bragging rights on a global scale.

    • by lowrydr310 (830514) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:45AM (#33687224)
      Shall we play a game?

      Remember, the only winning move is not to play.
      • by V!NCENT (1105021)

        How about thermonuclear war?

        • by thijsh (910751)
          Lisa, get in here! In this house we obey the laws of thermonuclear war!

          Oh no, that was another fat stupid American everybody loves... :-) I just don't hope they pull a Homer with a nuke!
    • Colossus and Guardian are bored and need a new friend...

      Seriously though, isn't more supercomputing power better? More better?

    • by thijsh (910751)
      They win insurance [wikileaks.org]... Or probably other interesting state secrets that are encrypted. Presuming there are some yet unknown-to-the-public-flaws in AES for example (and like with all algorithms there are [wikimedia.org]) governments could possibly be able to decrypt these kind of files in a matter of years instead of billions. In which case it can be quite beneficial to be a month ahead of 'the other guys' with decryption, with some information a few extra petaflop (or soon exaflop) could mean a world of difference.
    • So everyone's trying to make a big, fast computer.

      What's at stake? What does the winner win?

      What's at stake is nothing less than hundreds of million dollars and the winner gets to store that money in the bank. That's why IBM is trying to make anyone believe that there is some sort of supercomputer arms race going on between a hand full of rivals. By fanning a hand full of politician's need for nationalistic grandstanding they are in effect positioning themselves to receive a big chunk of tax money.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Transcendence
    • by andy1307 (656570)
      To track IBM's billing hours. At 300$/hr for an IBM consultant, that's a lot of computing.
    • So everyone's trying to make a big, fast computer. What's at stake? What does the winner win?

      For some the prize may be nuclear weapons in a post test ban world. Its not just the non-nuclear powers either, existing nuclear powers have a "need" too. With currently deployed nuclear weapons aging and in need of replacement (from their owner's perspective) there is a desire to modernize weapon designs (easier to deliver smaller bombs, more bombs from existing fissionable material, etc). Super computers are essential for such activities. That supercomputer purchased from climate modeling can be repurpose

    • What's at stake? What does the winner win?

      Taxpayer money!

    • "I'm as just as capable as being sorry as you are"...

    • by daem0n1x (748565)
      42
  • Plus ca change.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by klingens (147173)

    Apparently there is nothing new under the Sun. The reader of this PR to help IBM sell more of their HPC machines should read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missile_gap [wikipedia.org] first.

  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:29AM (#33686976)
    The US doesn't have a monopoly on smart people.

    Those countries are sending their best and brightest to US universities to learn. Last I looked, they take the same classes as Americans - at least the Americans who are still studying that stuff.
    When you offshore R&D to other countries, you spread knowledge around faster.
    Why do I get the feeling the IBM is setting themselves up to receive Government handouts.

  • Supercomputers are cool, but I really don't care which country has the largest. It's a bit sad to be honest. How are China going to "eat [USA's] lunch" with a big supercomputer (which in supercomputing terms seems to just involve throwing more money at it to add in even more interconnects and processors - not exactly very innovative)? By beating them at Chess?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by klingens (147173)

      I understand IBM did some nice marketing in the "HPC is for Chess" area, but "surprise!": real world HPC is not used for chess playing.

      It's for serious research, nowadays mostly nukes (design stuff to go BOOM) and flow modelation (climate research, stealth research, building better cars,planes and other machines), biochemistry (genetic engineering), cryptography and probably dozens of others things.

      • I know that supercomputers are useful things, but I suspect that whoever has the fastest does not matter too much. Having two smaller supercomputers would still be useful for example. I don't know much about it but I assume that you don't usually use the whole supercomputer for just one task - you probably are often running several at once?

        I do IBM and the US should keep pushing forward, but saying they should do something simply because China is also doing it is the thing that is bothering me. As someone e

    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      They'll be eating IBM's lunch, not that of the US. IBM really doesn't care about the US as long as they still have money. What they don't want is the US buying supercomputer hardware or expertise from other companies.
    • China might make a computer capable of beating a five year old at Go.
    • Dude, you know that if Big Blue lost to Tao Rhuo-Hong in Chess, the US would have a major PR blow and toothless idiots that don't know Chess from Checkers would be afraid to sleep at night over worry that we're losing to the Chinese, and can we please spend more money to build better Chess-playing computers "CUZ THESE COLORS DON'T RUN!"

      If I were IBM, I'd lobby on those fears to get the US to fund my R&D too. Not a good idea from a taxpayer's perspective, but evilly brilliant from IBM's perspective.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      How are China going to "eat [USA's] lunch"

      Your comment reminds me of an old Justin Wilson Cajun joke. A Cajun sends his son to college, and when the kid comes home on break the old Cajun asks him "so, whad'ya larn, boy?"

      The student thinks a second and says "PI R square".

      The old man is indignant. "What kind o' tomfoolery is they teachin'? Pie are ROUND, cornbread are square!"

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Depends on what you are using the SuperComputer for.
      Some of the uses are.
      Nuclear Weapons design,
      Weather prediction,
      Fusion research.
      Biomedical research.
      Material Science.

      So yea it is kind of important.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:31AM (#33687020)

    In other words, IBM wants the government to give them lots of cash so they can ship more jobs over to India.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sonny Yatsen (603655) *

      Why is it a bailout? Why do people just generically call things they don't like a bailout? A bailout implies just a handout to keep something from failing. This doesn't sound like a bailout. This sounds like a an investment, and for that money, we'll get a more powerful supercomputer and the knowledge and research and know-how that comes with it.

      • It is not an investment when the tech and jobs are shipped overseas to places like CHina, but the same companies that are screaming about this.
      • This sounds like a an investment, and for that money, we'll get a more powerful supercomputer and the knowledge and research and know-how that comes with it.

        Yes, it's an "investment" in IBM's bottom line. Who knows what untold disaster will rock the US if we don't send them billions of dollars.

  • by lenroc (632180) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:39AM (#33687126)
    If they're worried about China advancing in computer technology, maybe they shouldn't build research labs there! [ibm.com]
  • by swamp boy (151038) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:39AM (#33687136)

    Really, since when does IBM care about what happens in the U.S.? Aren't they the same company that recently told some of their top researchers that they could either move to China, Poland, or a couple of other countries on their own dime and work for 'local wages' or be out of a job?

  • Nerd Wars (Score:3, Funny)

    by Voulnet (1630793) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:44AM (#33687210)
    Nerd Wars going global. I don't see any other explanation.
  • You have to hand it to IBM's marketing team... Nice strategy.

    Making the government buy more stuff by effectively injecting FUD. I really can't think of a better way to make people buy stuff without knowing what they need it for.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      Making the government buy more stuff by effectively injecting FUD.

      Yeah. You keep telling yourself that it's FUD, just like the ultra quiet Chinese sub that popped to the surface 700 yards from the USS Kitty Hawk surprising the hell out of it while it was on exercise, like the Chinese anti-satellite program, like the Chinese having the most impressive engineering and transportation projects this century (as opposed to the most impressive rhetoric and debt), like the millions of people i

      • The sad thing is, that as long as humans are stupid enough to think about their nations in terms of supremacy, we will really never evolve past a continuum of wars.

        But the most amusing thing is how Americans seem to take it for granted that the USA should always be the best at everything.

        I'm not trying to take sides or say how it should be. These are just general observations that seem to contribute to my inevitable fall into ever deeper cynicism. That being said, the longer I live the more convinced I am a

        • by cdrguru (88047) on Friday September 24, 2010 @10:46AM (#33688096) Homepage

          Unilateral disarmement never works. If the other side wants to compete you can either compete or forfit. There are no other options. You might think you can choose to sit out, but there is no material difference between that and forfitting.

          In theory, the USA has the greatest potential because (historically) you have had self-directed businesses that can rely on the stock market for capitialization and low taxes and low regulatory hurdles so a business can put incredible resources behind something that makes sense. There are plenty of examples of this happening where the government has stood aside while businesses gathered the capital and manpower to do really big things.

          There was no government-financed support for transistors, lasers, integrated circuits or anything that led to the technology boom from 1950 to 1980 or so.

          Where we are today is that everyone is looking to the government for direction and support. Solar power isn't practical on a large scale without massive government subsidies, so there are few businesses involved in this and some of the ones that are are pure scam. Electric cars might have a future, but there are so many regulations in place now that it is very difficult to manufacture anything involving those nasty things called "chemicals" that might get loose and destroy the environment - so other countries are building battery manufacturing plants and are fully prepared to sell the USA better, cheaper batteries while we fuss around. The result will be their batteries will always be better and cheaper.

          The US Government is pretty much at the point of saying that China can have bigger, better, faster supercomputers because we will have bigger, better and likely more ponderous social support programs. The result will be a continuing slide towards 30-40% unemployment (we're at 20% now) and everything being made outside the USA. Hopefully, there will be plenty of jobs parking cars for foreign executives who come here to dictate terms.

          • Unilateral disarmement never works.

            Only for as long as people keep thinking like that.

            It might take a thousand, ten thousand, or even a hundred thousand years to achieve world piece. But even that is no reason not to try.

          • by Dunbal (464142) *

            Where we are today is that everyone is looking to the government for direction and support.

                  You make several valid points, however with respect to the above I have to add: The US government is also looking in every pocket and every wallet for loose change to pay for said "direction and support" - or at least the illusion of it.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by timeOday (582209)

            Unilateral disarmement never works. If the other side wants to compete you can either compete or forfit. There are no other options.

            Well, what if we just fixed our defense spending to twice that of our nearest competitor? That would be a 2/3 reduction [wikipedia.org] from where we are now.

  • by Kagato (116051) on Friday September 24, 2010 @09:54AM (#33687350)

    This is the same company that sold most of it's commodity hardware business to Red China. The same company that's heavily investing in research... in China and India. The same company that continued to sell the Nazi's computing hardware used against allied forces and for managing the Holocaust via their their Brazilian unit. IBM has had a long history of selling out America in order to maximize profits.

  • the company that has been taking all of the US jobs AND TECH, and sending these to China and India SUDDENLY wants US to spend money on super computers. ANd exactly where would these be built at? Why CHINA.

    IBM was ran by traitors in WWII. I see it still is.
  • are these nations using AMD CPU's like a lot of other supercomputers out there? sounds like IBM is looking for some gubment money to buy up PowerPC CPU's that they can't sell

  • Who invests in China? Who has Labs in China? This situation was inevitable, and it is based on decisions made years ago.

  • IBM and the USA have a divine right to building the largest supercomputer or something?
  • Since when did the "Indian Business Machine" cared about America? When there is government contracts to be won by scare-mongering?
  • Oh, no, China is connecting a crapload of bog-standard x86 chips together and running Linux on it, how can we ever compete with that?

    Most supercomputers, from a hardware perspective, are boring and stupid. Their designs are lazy - just keep slapping in more x86 chips and hope the software can be written to break down the problem into parallel operations easily, because if they run into Ahmdahl's law, they're hosed.

    Only Fuji and NEC, and to a much lesser extent, IBM, have really bothered with something diffe

  • I remember a similar cry in the 1980s that Japan was going whip the USA in fifth-generation A.I. computing, unless the US government ponied up much more R&D funds. Turned Japan was pursuing a blind ally with fine-grained parallelism and Prolog. Such projects in both the US and Japan went nowhere.
  • Because they are not financially viable yet. These computing experiments may test ideas such as billion cores, optical interconnect, etc. Because sometimes these technologies pan out and sometimes they dont, I support a limited number of high-end projects at a time.
  • Beowulf cluster!

  • by ibsteve2u (1184603) on Friday September 24, 2010 @11:44AM (#33688788)
    In America, our capitalists insist that the individual's (i.e., their own) interests come before the state's and the people's, and anything that they do is justified by the profit motive even if it should hurt America. In China, capitalism is used as a motivational tool to benefit the state - with the constraint that hurting the state will result in your being gifted with some of that uniquely Chinese jewelry: A bullet behind the ear.

    Put another way, decades of observation of America taught China that you cannot depend upon "enlightened self-interest" or "their responsibility to shareholders" to keep humans motivated by greed on the high road, but if you shoot those who drift off the road you've chosen, you don't need sidewalks.

    Put another way, China weaponized trade and used American greed against us. And now such as IBM wish to complain about the consequences of their eagerness to be fabulously wealthy victims? Who built Lenovo? Little green men from Mars?

    Put another way, IBM whining about China investing in making them obsolete after a decade or two of IBM trying to make technology jobs in America obsolete is not American capitalism, it is American greed - and all that we have left.

    Put another way, America herds cats, while China trains a tiger.

It was kinda like stuffing the wrong card in a computer, when you're stickin' those artificial stimulants in your arm. -- Dion, noted computer scientist

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