Image of Tianhe-1, the next generation will be exascale. Source National Computer Centre in Tianjin (China)
Image of Tianhe-1, the next generation will be exascale.

The National Supercomputer Centre in China has announced that they will be developing a new generation of supercomputer. The new design will significantly outperform the Tianhe-1A, the petascale super computer that that was recognised as the worlds fastest in 2010.  The new computer will be capable of a billion billion calculations each second and if it can it will be the first to reach exascale computing power.

While the Tianhe-1A was replaced by the Tianhe-2, it is the Tianhe-1A that is used the most by industry currently. Its applications range include biomedical, oil exploration data management and animation & video effects. With the capacity of Tianhe-1A being stretched according to Meng Xiangfei, the head of the applications department of the National Supercomputer Center there is a requirement for even greater computing power.

What makes this interesting is that as the power of computers improves the scientific breakthroughs in medicine are likely to be accelerated. Problems that hitherto did not have enough computing power to complete may suddenly be within reach.

The new computer will be 1,000 more powerful than Tianhe-1A assuming that the designs are realised. A first prototype will be released in 2017-2018. No details have been released yet around its capabilities but it will be interesting to compare them to the Tianhe-1A when they are.

The Tianhe 1A currently consists of 7168 computing nodes, powered by 23,552 microprocessors with a memory capacity of 262TB and storage capacity of 2PB. About 14% of its chips are Chinese, whether this percentage will increase with the next version is unknown but it is likely that they will.

The US Government has blocked Intel from exporting its latest generation of Xeon processors to China for use in a number of supercomputer and other projects. This leaves China with two options, continue the development of its own MIPS-based processors for which it has licensed the rights or to consider a move to the IBM POWER8 processor. Whichever it chooses will put pressure on the US Government to reconsider its ban on Intel exports.


China is currently leading the race for Super Computer power. If it continues to do it will enjoy an advantage over other countries if it can leverage the data now available through IoT with this extraordinarily powerful computer. The scale of data collected in China is enormous however. Sensoro rolled out 100,000 iBeacons across shopping malls in China and as more and more endpoints are created the computing power required to analyse the raw, rather than aggregated data is increasing exponentially.

The race is now on between the National Supercomputer centre in China and Cray which announced in 2009 it was aiming for Exascale computing power. Their aim is to produce a computing system with exascale power sometimes between 2016 and 2018. The race is on!


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