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Technology

Japan's Fugaku retains title as world's fastest supercomputer

Four-peat achieved but U.S. and China rivals poised for top spot as soon as next year

The Fugaku supercomputer has led the speed-based rankings since June 2020. (Photo by Shoya Okinaga)

TOKYO -- The Japanese-made Fugaku captured its fourth consecutive title as the world's fastest supercomputer on Tuesday, although a rival from the U.S. or China is poised to steal the crown as soon as next year.

The Fugaku, jointly developed by Fujitsu and Japan's Riken national research institute, attained a computing speed of 442 petaflops, or quadrillions of floating point operations per second, according to the supercomputer-ranking project TOP500. This is roughly triple the speed of the IBM-built Summit supercomputer, which clocked in at 148 petaflops.

The TOP500 list is released every June and November by a panel of experts. The Fugaku has held its top spot since June 2020.

The Fugaku launched full-scale operations in March of this year. The supercomputer was used to simulate the spread of the coronavirus through droplet dispersion. It was also involved in forecasting concentrated downpours and other weather events.

The supercomputer has been deployed in a wide range of industrial applications. Last month, Kawasaki Heavy Industries started using the Fugaku to run high-precision simulations evaluating the fuel economy and flight speeds of aircraft. And the Fugaku enabled machine tool manufacturer DMG Mori Seiki to calculate machining test results of its tools in 10 minutes, as opposed to the eight hours required for real-world testing.

Apart from computing speeds, the Fugaku won for the fourth straight time in three categories, including artificial intelligence. A supercomputer developed by Tokyo-based startup Preferred Networks, named MN-3, won the energy efficiency title for the second straight time.

However, it is only a matter of time before the Fugaku loses its top spot. U.S. and Chinese competitors are busy developing supercomputers capable of at least 1 exaflop, or 1 quintillion calculations in a second. Three such machines are said to be in the works in the U.S. and China.

The Frontier system in the U.S. may be the first exascale supercomputer to become operational later this year. In China, it is believed that the successors to the Sunway TaihuLight and the Tianhe-2 -- two systems that topped the list between 2013 and 2017 -- are looking to be developed in time for next June's rankings.

Japan is keen to build on the Fugaku's achievements. A successor to the Fugaku "is essential to strengthening industrial competitiveness and resolving societal challenges," a working group within Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said in August.

Yet there are no set plans to develop the next-generation supercomputer. A development project could be greenlit around 2023. Considering the time it will take to design and build such a system, Fugaku's successor is expected to be up and running no sooner than the latter half of this decade.

Supercomputers are employed in a wide range of applications, including national security, weather forecasts and developing autonomous vehicles. A delay in developing a sequel to the Fugaku may result in Japan losing its competitive advantage in several areas.

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