Last year, President Obama issued an executive order aimed at accelerating the development of high-performance computing systems in the United States.
The executive order created the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), an initiative to coordinate federal government efforts and those of public research institutions and the private sector to create a comprehensive, long-term strategy for ensuring the United States retains its six-decade lead in research and development of HPC systems.
Noting the importance of supercomputers in government, industry and academia, Obama wrote the country's momentum in high-performance computing (HPC) needed a "whole of government" approach that incorporates public and private efforts.
"Maximizing the benefits of HPC in the coming decades will require an effective national response to increasing demands for computing power, emerging technological challenges and opportunities, and growing economic dependency on and competition with other nations," the president wrote. "This national response will require a cohesive, strategic effort within the Federal Government and a close collaboration between the public and private sectors."
However, according to a recent report, the United States' lead in the space is not ensured, and that other regions and countries—in particular, China—are making concerted efforts to expand their capabilities in the design, development and manufacturing of supercomputers and the components that make up the systems.
The authors of the report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) stressed the importance to the United States of the HPC market—to everything from national security to economic development—and listed steps Congress must make to keep the country at the forefront of HPC and supercomputer development.
"Recognizing that both the development and use of high-performance computing are vital for countries' economic competitiveness and innovation potential, an increasing number of countries have made significant investments and implemented holistic strategies to position themselves at the forefront of the competition for global HPC leadership," the authors, Stephen Ezell and Robert Atkinson, wrote. "The report details how China, the European Union, Japan, and other nations have articulated national supercomputing strategies and announced significant investments in high-performance computing."
The United States needs to meet and exceed those efforts, the authors wrote.
"The United States currently leads in HPC adoption, deployment, and development, but its future leadership position is not guaranteed unless it makes sustained efforts and commitments to maintain a robust HPC ecosystem," they wrote.
The report describes HPC as the use of supercomputers and massively parallel processing technologies to address complex computational challenges, using such techniques as computer modeling, simulation and data analysis. It includes everything from computer hardware to algorithms and software running in a single system.
The United States continues to be the leader in the development of supercomputers, but the current trends in the industry are threatening. In the latest Top500 list of the world's fastest systems released in November 2015, the United States had 200 systems on the list. However, it was down from the 231 on the list released in July 2015 and was the lowest number for the country since the list was started in 1993. China, meanwhile, placed on 109 systems in November, almost three times the 37 the country had on the July list.
In addition, the Tianhe-2 supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology was in the top slot for the sixth consecutive time, with a peak theoretical performance speed of 54.9 Petaflops (quadrillion floating point operations per second)—twice the speed of Titan, the second fastest system located at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
The next Top500 list will be announced next month at the ISC 2016 show in Frankfurt, Germany.