February 21, 2012, 5:52 AM — By Patrick Thibodeau Secretariat was famous for coming up from behind in a race to win, and the same may be true for the U.S. in the global push to build exascale technologies. Because for now, when it comes to delivering the needed funding to build these systems, the U.S. is just getting out of the gate.
The European Commission last week said it is doubling its investment in the push for exascale computing from [euro]630 million to [euro]1.2 billion (or the equivalent of $1.58 billion). The announcement comes even as European governments are imposing austerity measures to prevent defaults.
The Europeans announced the plan the same week the White House released its fiscal year 2013 budget, which envisions a third year of anemic funding to develop exascale technologies . Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asked for nearly $91 million in funding for the efforts in the current fiscal year; it received $73.4 million. That was up from $28.2 million spent on exascale the previous year.
In the budget proposal delivered to Congress, the White House has asked for $89.5 million - although there's additional money for exascale tucked away in other DOE budgets as well as in defense budgets.
That level of investment, according to Earl Joseph, a high-performance computing (HPC) nalyst for IDC, is "peanuts" for a program that may require billions of dollars.
Meanwhile, China is moving ahead with its own plans and has the financial resources and human talent to make progress in exascale computing. The Europeans may be particularly worried about China.
"Their biggest threat is that China is just going to bury them," said Joseph, referring to Europe. "With this level of investment, it gives them a chance to hold their own and maybe get a little bit a head of the game."
Major parts of the U.S. investment will go to fundamental research leading to new types of processors, memory, operating systems and compilers -- research breakthroughs that could also be applied commercially, said Joseph.
IDC, which is owned by IDG, the parent company of Computerworld, has been advising European authorities on HPC. The research firm recommended that Europe focus on developing applications that can utilize exascale systems and put less emphasis on developing hardware. U.S.-based IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Intel, in particular, dominate HPC hardware system building.