China Extends Lead as Most Prolific Supercomputer Maker

China Extends Lead as Most Prolific Supercomputer Maker

The new list confirmed that the current fastest machine resides in the United States. This month, the Department of Energy announced that its new supercomputer, called Summit, had achieved speeds well ahead of the previous leader, the Sunway TaihuLight at a Chinese supercomputing center in Wuxi. Summit, built by IBM in a partnership with Nvidia, is at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Depei Qian, a top supercomputer researcher in China, marvels at the progress his nation has made in the past decade — “beyond our expectations,” he said.

A point of particular pride: The Sunway TaihuLight machine uses homegrown microprocessors. “That used to be a weakness,” said Mr. Qian, a computer science professor at both Sun Yat-sen University and Beihang University.

But while China has made impressive strides, Mr. Qian said the country still lagged in certain advanced hardware technologies and, especially, in software. “Software is a tough issue for us,” he said. “That will take longer.”

Software is a challenge for supercomputing engineers in general. Supercomputers are increasingly being programmed to process vast amounts of data with artificial intelligence software. So data-handling speeds in software applications often become more important than raw calculating speed, which has been the traditional yardstick of supercomputer performance.

The 500 list is based on the machines’ speed of mathematical calculation. But another benchmark — codeveloped by Mr. Dongarra of the University of Tennessee — measures data-handling speed in applications. Summit tops that list as well, while the Sunway machine ranks sixth.

But China is also catching up in software development, supercomputer experts said. “The flagship centers in China today are surprisingly similar to ours,” said Rick Stevens, an associate director of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

China’s overarching policy, Mr. Stevens said, is “to play the long game in technology, and supercomputers are just one part of that.”

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