Sunday, October 1, 2023

The return of the supercomputer race between the United States, China and Europe

We thought they were dead, but supercomputers are back in action. They now benefit from a growing global market, thanks to the exploitation of 21st century black Century: data at the service of artificial intelligence (AI). They have even become a question of sovereignty, to the point that the United States, in its trade war against China, even goes so far as to deprive its Asian rival of the microprocessors intended for these machines. In Europe, survivors are coming out of the woods. Starting with the French State, which is closely following the negotiations regarding the dismantling of the Atos group. In its subsidiary Eviden there is a gem worth pampering, among the few that survive in Europe: the supercomputers resulting from the acquisition of Bull in 2013. A new factory should even be built in Angers between now and 2027.

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These giants are called to the rescue to more quickly develop medicines and vaccines, particularly against Covid-19, refine weather forecasts in the face of climate change, improve the aerodynamics of airplanes and other vehicles to consume less energy and fight against increasingly cyberattacks. more formidable. or simulate a nuclear explosion in the name of deterrence. Machine learning (machine learning) and quantum computing (massive, simultaneous calculations at the atomic scale) need them.

Long confined to university research or industrial or nuclear (defense) simulation, the supercomputer line is regaining strength with artificial intelligence. “Large-scale AI models are growing very quickly and new buyers are starting to use high-capacity machines, with sales prices ranging from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars each. “The fight against cyberattacks will also require great computing power”, predicts Earl Joseph, CEO of Hyperion Research, a US research firm specializing in the global HPC market (high performance computing, or “high performance computing”). Because the more powerful the computers are, the more expensive they are.

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Billions of billions of operations

Computing heavyweights, these new supercomputers have relegated their 1960s predecessors to the featherweight category. At that time, the pioneering manufacturers were called IBM, Univac, Control Data Corporation, Cray Research or Silicon Graphics Inc. Moore’s law, which predicted the doubling of the power of electronic chips every two years, hurt them in the 1980s. and 1990, but there was no extinction of these dinosaurs. A few hundred thousand instructions per second (or KIPS, for that matter) kilos of instructions per second) for the ancients, the current generation reaches millions of billions of operations per second, expressed in petaflops/s (of 10fifteen) for the so-called models «petascale», or even billions of billions of operations per second, in exaflops/s (of 1018) for those stronger in calculus, called “exascale”. “If every person on Earth performed one calculation per second, it would take more than four years to do what an exascale computer can do in just one second.”indicates the Danish Anders Dam Jensen, director of EuroHPC, the European alliance determined to make the Old Continent a paradise for supercomputers.

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