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NEC to deliver Europe's fastest weather supercomputer

Germany's $56m order paves way for wider use of Japanese machines

People cross a street during heavy rain in Frankfurt, Germany.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese tech company NEC will supply the fastest supercomputer in Europe for weather forecasting through a 50 million euro ($56 million) order from German meteorological service DWD, Nikkei has learned.

The weather agencies of Germany, the U.K. and France are the three big players in Europe. The latest deal could lead to the adoption of Japanese supercomputers by other meteorological services on the continent.

NEC will deliver the SX-Aurora Tsubasa, a vector supercomputer. Vector machines are said to be stronger in handling large amounts of data at once compared with scalar supercomputers, which are widely offered by rivals. This ability makes vector supercomputers well-suited for weather forecasting.

The German weather agency hopes to use the new supercomputer to reduce flood damage by forecasting short, localized downpours more accurately. The improved performance allows for quicker and more precise predictions.

The new machine is expected to be six times faster than DWD's current supercomputer, and more powerful than those used by the British and French weather authorities.

NEC's SX-Aurora Tsubasa supercomputer offers advantages for weather forecasting.

The current SX-Aurora Tsubasa model will be delivered in November, with an upgrade slated for September 2020. A successor machine is to be delivered by October 2022.

With the current model, NEC made changes to the hardware and software designed in-house, which had led to high costs. By adopting an operating system based on the open source Linux, NEC no longer needs to develop management and other software from scratch. The Japanese company devised ways to reduce development costs and power consumption.

NEC plans to pitch its supercomputer to the weather agencies of nations such as Italy, Switzerland and Poland, which use the same forecasting programs as Germany. The company aims to receive 20 billion yen ($184 million) in orders from European weather services by 2021.

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