July 2, 2014 3:10 pm JST

Japan universities plan supercomputers for 2016

K, Japan's current fastest supercomputer

OSAKA -- Japanese universities plan to have the country's fastest supercomputers one after another in 2016. The machines will provide businesses with computational services needed to handle so-called "big-data" innovations.  

     The Tokyo Institute of Technology will work with the private sector to develop the Tsubame 3.0, a supercomputer capable of performing calculations at 20 to 30 petaflops per second. A petaflop is 1 quadrillion floating point operations, making the new model two to three times faster than K, Japan's current fastest supercomputer. 

     Japanese and U.S. companies are expected to join bids for the project, which the university will solicit next spring. The machine is expected to put into service around May or June in 2016.

     It cost about 110 billion yen ($1.07 billion) to develop the K supercomputer because the project involved the development of CPUs from scratch. The Tsubame 3.0 is designed to use CPUs and image-processing semiconductor chips that are on the market. Development costs are expected to reach 3.2-4 billion yen. The machine will use highly-integrated CPUs, which will help keep it compact and save power.

     The University of Tokyo will team up with the University of Tsukuba to develop a next-generation supercomputer, which will be on par with the Tsubame in terms of performance. They will tender bids early next year for implementation in early 2016. Development costs are estimated at around 10 billion yen.

     Supercomputers are in high demand among businesses looking to develop new products and services through big-data analysis. Automakers, for example, are developing new cars with the aid of these machines. Pharmaceutical companies are using them to search candidate substances for new drugs. 

     The race to develop the world's fastest supercomputer, led by U.S. and China, is intensifying. The K, jointly developed by Fujitsu and Riken, a government-backed research institute, took the crown in the global ranking of computational performance in 2011. It was overtaken by China's Tianhe-2 the following year and is now in fourth place.