ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronEye IconIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailMenu BurgerPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon SearchSite TitleTitle ChevronIcon Twitter
Business

Changing tack, Fujitsu chooses UK partner on supercomputers

Japan's K supercomputer

TOKYO -- Fujitsu has decided to team up with U.K. chip design company ARM Holdings to develop the successor to Japan's K supercomputer, signaling a departure from its emphasis on employing proprietary technologies.

The next-generation machine is being developed by Fujitsu and the government-backed Riken research institute, with the help of 130 billion yen ($1.24 billion) in government funding. Completion is scheduled for 2020.

Under the partnership unveiled Monday at a supercomputing conference being held in Frankfurt, Germany, Fujitsu will use central processing units designed by ARM, whose products are increasingly becoming a de-facto global standard.

Fujitsu has taken charge of the K's CPU design, its self-reliant streak stemming in part from supercomputer technology's importance to Japan's national pride. Hopes are high that the machine will support efforts in weather simulation, drug discovery, artificial intelligence development and other fields. But only software developed by Fujitsu or other K computer users can be run on the machine, hindering commercial application.

Adopting ARM's processor designs would make the K readily compatible with software developed by companies and researchers worldwide. Fujitsu, for its part, insists that despite this prospect the company will not lose its originality in how the circuit is drawn.

How efficiently computational labor is divided among a supercomputer's several hundred thousand to several million processors is what sets it apart. Fujitsu has strength in communication speeds among various processing units, and this will let it "remain sufficiently competitive," said Naoki Shinjo of the company's technical computing division.

Ceding ground

Fujitsu's strategy shift is likely aimed at avoiding the harmful overspecialization that could find use only in a small market and result in a lack of compatibility for broader applications.

Unless the Japanese company can continue to innovate, however, it could begin to lose relevance since ARM's processor designs can be used not only by Fujitsu but also other companies willing to pay.

ARM is expected to begin designing core supercomputer parts for companies in emerging nations. 

Threats are already approaching from the Asian continent. Chinese supercomputers combining enormous numbers of processors have surged to the Nos. 1 and 2 spots worldwide in terms of computational speed. Machines using similar technology are expected to hit the market soon.

Japanese companies are no strangers to the pain that can result when a universal standard sweeps across an industry. U.S. companies' dominance of the personal computer operating system and CPU markets, for example, made it difficult for Japanese players to stand out. Manufacturers in emerging nations surged into the hardware field as standard technology spread, sidelining Japanese competitors.

Whether Japan's supercomputers can avoid the fate of the country's PC industry rests on companies' ability to continue developing unique technology on top of a set of universal parts. If not, Europe and the U.S. could once again dominate the design field, with China taking charge of manufacturing, leaving little room for anyone else. 

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Get Unlimited access

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world
.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends January 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to the Nikkei Asian Review has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media