Russia Steps up Game in Supercomputing

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Russia's profile in supercomputing is being raised thanks to a Moscow-based company and a Russian president who sees high-performance computing as critical to the nation's future.

Two years ago, Russia's President, Dmitry Medvedev, chastised his country's progress in developing supercomputers, saying in a speech somewhat sarcastically that "a huge number of entrepreneurs, not to mention officials, do not know what supercomputers are."

Medvedev is very interested in duplicating the U.S. achievements in high-technology, and last year traveled to Silicon Valley, visiting Google , Twitter , Apple and Cisco , and spoke at Stanford University about the need to increase technology investment in his country.

Medvedev has also been to Moscow State University to see T-Platforms' supercomputer. This 200-person, Moscow-based high-performance computing (HPC) company built the 13th most powerful system in the world as ranked the most recent Top500 list .

But the T-Platforms system also placed third on a new benchmark, the Graph500, which measures how rapidly a system can execute a data-intensive graph operation. The Top500 list, using the Linpack benchmark, measures how fast a computer solves a series of dense linear equations.

Steve Conway, an HPC analyst at IDC, said Medvedev has been urging high-performance computing investment "or else Russian products in five years won't be competitive in the world market, so the government is very much driving to increase HPC usage."

T-Platforms is promoting supercomputing use in Russia, as well as selling its systems in Europe, and aims to also sell in the U.S. market.

"At the moment it's a new technology for most of the people, but we are trying to expand the market [in Russia]," said Anton Korzh, a systems architect at T-Platforms. The company is also helping its potential science and research customers to design applications that work in HPC environments.

The Graph500 was developed by an international team led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories, and it made its first appearance last year. There were only 28 systems ranked on last month's latest list, and although T-Platforms' 1.3-petaflop system, called Lomonosov, placed third, it had the highest performance. Its overall ranking was hurt by the size of the problem it was tested on.

An IBM system, its Blue Gene/P, called the Intrepid, placed first on the Graph500.

Korzh said he views the Linpack Top500 test as directly related to the amount of money spent on building a system. "The Linpack performance can almost be predicted," Korzh said. But with the Graph500 it's a different story, with software technologies having more of role in determining performance. "You have more possibilities of optimizations," he said.

Conway said software capability is extremely important. "HPC leadership is going to be determined going forward much more by software advances than by hardware advances -- the hardware has already raced way out of the ability of software to exploit it," he said.

When it comes to writing software, "all of Eastern Europe has some advantage because all through the time they were under communism they had very poor hardware so they had to write software that would practically make a washing machine compute," Conway said.

Conway said he's not saying that Russian and Eastern European developers will "outrun or outgun those in the Europe or the U.S.," but "they definitely have the advantage of developing software that is robust enough that it can withstand a lot."

Korzh said they ran the Graph500 on only half the nodes of their hybrid blade system, which runs Nvidia Tesla GPUs, but they plan to try again on a larger set of nodes for the November Graph500 ranking.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

Read more about mainframes and supercomputers in Computerworld's Mainframes and Supercomputers Topic Center.

This story, "Russia Steps up Game in Supercomputing" was originally published by Computerworld.

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