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In January 2007, a team of researchers from the Japan Science and Technology Agency and NEC developed encryption communication technology that was impossible to break. It issues quantum cryptographs, which is theoretically impossible to crack, figured out a way to apply the technology to transmission devices.

Using a system that combines laser disc and computer technology, women customers can have their image projected onto a screen wearing one of hundreds of different kinds of kimonos. Kimonos takes about 20 minutes to put on properly and thus this technology is considered a time saving breakthrough. Hair salons have a similar device which shows customers how the will look in one of 300 preselected hairstyles.

Large amounts of money have been invested in advanced "fifth generation computer" project. The Fifth generation computer screen, which proposed to build computers that could reason like people, has swallowed up $470 million but hasn't produced any marketable products.

A research team made of scientists from Fujitsu, Nippon Telegraph, AT&T Research and Lucent Technologies, achieved a technological "Holy Grail" milestone when it succeeded in transmitting 1 trillion bits of information a second through an optical fiber. The feat is the equivalent of transmitting 300 years of daily newspapers in one second.

Ken Sakamura of Tokyo University invented TRON (Real-time Operating system Nucleus). He had hoped it would the chief computer operating system. That didn’t happen. Microsoft beat him to the punch. TRON has since become a favored operating system for mobile phones because it fast and has a quick start up time.

In September 2003, a Japanese consortium representing TRON made a deal with Microsoft. Some feel this could mean that TRON will become the global standard not only for cell phones but also for digital cameras, faxes, automobile engines and industrial equipment.

Supercomputers in Japan

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Earthsimulator ES2 supercomputer
In 1993 more than 100 supercomputers made in Japan ranked among the world’s top 500 supercomputers. The Earth Simulator NEC-GS40 at the Earth Simulation Research and Development Center in Yokohama was ranked the world’s fastest computer (with 35.86 teraflops, or trillions of calculations per second) after its introduction in March 2002 to June 2004. Housed in a special gymnasium-like facility and occupying the space of four tennis court, it is composed of 640 specialized nodes which in turn are comprised of 5,104 processors and linked by 1,700 miles of cables . Each of the 640 nodes is two meters tall, one meter wide and 1.4 meters deep. is. For a time it was five times faster than its nearest competitors MCR Linux cluster at Lawrence Livermore (5.68 teraflops), ASCI White at Lawrence Livermore (7.22 teraflops), and the ASCI Q twin machines at Los Alamos (7.72 teraflops).

In the late 2000s Japan was losing its place in the supercomputer ranks.

As of November 2009, NEC Earth Simulator Center was the 31st fastest supercomputer in the world with 122 trillion calculations per second. The fastest at that time were : 1) the Cray Jaguar at Oakridge National Laboratory in the United States with 1.759 quadrillion calculations per second; 2) the IBM Roadrunner at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States with 1.042 quadrillion calculations per second; 3) the Cray Kraken at the University of Tennessee in the United States with 832 trillion calculations per second; and 4) the IBM Eugene at Juelich Research Centers the United States with 826 trillion calculations per second.

In 2009 China held the number five position: the National University of Defense Technology Milk Way at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin does 563 trillion calculations per second. As of 2007, Japan only held 16th and 30th place among fastest super computers. The 16th was the NEC/SUN Tsubame (Tokyo Institute of Technology Global Scientific Information and Computing Center) with 56.4 teraflop . The 30th was the NEC Earth Simulator with 35.8 teraflops, The winner was the IBM BlueGene/L with 478.2 teraflops.

In 2009 Japan aimed to regain the supercomputer crown by spending ¥115 billion on a next-generation “petacomputer” — capable of performing 10 petaflops (10,000,000,000,000,000 operations a second) — in 2011. The new computer will need a building several stories high to house it and 20,000 kilometers of cables to transmit all the information. One of the biggest problems is dealing with heat created by the supercomputers when it is operating at full capacity. The “petacomputer” project is led by Nobel-prize-winner Ryoji Noyory. Fujitsu and NEC battled each other to win the contract. Construction was scheduled to begin in 2007 in a facility on Port Island in Kobe and is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

During the hearings for the Government Revitalization Unit, a body set up in 2009 to cut government waste and make the budget process more transparent, Japan’s supercomputer project was singled out as being a waste of money. In one widely shown exchange the head of the supercomputer project was asked to offer some good reason why the government should fund the project. The project head said to advance science and compete with the United States. The head of the panel responded by saying, “Does it matter if the United States is No.1" and refused a request to increase funding. Scientists, including some Nobel laureates condemned the cuts, arguing the money was vital for Japan to remain competitive in technology fields.

In January 2011, Tokyo Institute of Technology said it planned to develop a “green” supercomputer that used snow, ice and underground water for cooling. One of the problems with current supercomputers is that they burn up a lot of electricity, with cooling accounting for between 30 percent and 50 percent of the electricity necessary to power it.

Earth Simulator Supercomputer

Earth Simulator was ranked as the world's fastest for five consecutive six-month terms from 2002 to 2004. But the holder of the top spot has changed every year in recent years. The NEC-GS40 NEC uses vector procession, a method of using specialized hardware to solve complex problems pioneered Seymour Cray, developer of the Cray supercomputers. Financed by the government and built by NEC, it required $350 million and five years to make and was installed at the Earth Simulation Research and Development Center in Yokohama to study climate change and create accurate models to study changes in the earth’s atmosphere, oceans and crust.

People in the American supercomputing industry were shocked by the development and called it the “Japanese Sputnik.” Calculation of climate are done by dividing the world into small boxes, each with data on humidity, temperature and other variables, and making calculations of changes in these boxes over time. Old supercomputers could mange boxes that were roughly 30 miles square. The NEC-GS450 can do calculations for boxes that are six miles square.

In 2009, NEC and Hitachi said they were withdrawing from a super computer project as part of an effort to cut losses in the face of the global recession and reduce research and development costs. Fujitsu has decided to build the next-generation supercomputer on its own after its partners NEC and Hitachi withdrew from the project. The new Fujitsu machine is expected to be completed in 2012 and achieve 10,000 trillion calculations per second.

In November 2010, the Earth Simulator supercomputer was ranked the world’s fastest in complex calculations(it was the fastest in an international ranking of calculating the Fast Fourier Transform algorithm). It ranked forth in doing simple calculations. A few months earlier the Earth Simulator was tweaked to achieve a computing speed of 12 trillion calculations per second.


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supercomputer Blue gene supercomputer
Supercomputers are used for earthquake simulations, climate modeling, nuclear research and weapons development and testing, among other things,” Verne G. Kopytoff wrote in the New York Times. Businesses also use the machines for oil exploration and rapid stock trading. Building supercomputers is costly and involves connecting thousands of small computers in a data center.

The United States and European nations hope to develop next-generation supercomputers with speeds of 1,000 petaflops in the late 2010s. The faster a supercomputer becomes, the more precisely it can simulate complicated phenomena that are difficult to prove through experiments. Supercomputers are able to dramatically reduce the time and cost of developments in such industries as aviation and pharmaceuticals. They are also believed to be highly useful for the U.S. and China's military development in tasks, such as simulating nuclear explosions.

The rankings, which are issued every six months, change frequently and reflect how fast computer power is advancing. For example, the top ranked computer in June 2008, at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is now in 10th place. Mr. Dongarra said a computer called Blue Waters, being developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, may rival K in speed.

Many countries have developed high-speed computers, because they are seen as a national strength.Asian countries have made huge investments in supercomputing and now dominate the upper echelon of the field. Japan and China hold four of the top five spots in the latest ranking.However, in terms of the top 10, the United States remains the leader with five computers. They are at government research facilities. Japan’s top supercomputer ranking is its first since 2004. The United States and China are the only other countries to have held the title.

Fujitsu Supercomputers

In March 2010, Fujitsu announced that it had built Japan’s fastest supercomputer. Made for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the computer is capable of performing 186 trillion calculations a second and was ranked as the world’s 19th fastest supercomputer.

Fujitsu plans to resume exporting cutting-edge supercomputers in 2011 after a ten-year break. The company is promoting its next-generation “K Computer” which combines more than 800 small computers to perform calculations at a speed of 10 quadrillion times a second, five times faster than the world’s fastest models in 2010.

Fujitsu began shipping it next generation supercomputer built with the M3-backed design fo the research group RIKEN in September 2010. Nicknamed “Kei,” the Japanese word meaning 10 to 16th power, it has the performance goal of 10 petflops. (One petaflop is equal to 1000 trillion operations per second). The system is comprised of 800 computers each with ultrafast central processing units, in a massive inner network. [Source: Kyodo]

Japan’s “K” Computer Is Ranked Most Powerful Supercomputer

Verne G. Kopytoff wrote in the New York Times, “In the rankings of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, a Japanese machine has earned the top spot with a performance that essentially laps the competition. The computer, known as “K Computer,” is three times faster than a Chinese rival that previously held the top position, said Jack Dongarra, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville who keeps the official rankings of computer performance.” [Source: Verne G. Kopytoff, New York Times, June 19, 2011]

K was built and jointly developed by Fujitsu and the government-backed RIKEN research institute. Located at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan, it represents a giant leap forward in speed and is a source of national pride for Japan, at least among computer scientists, who take the race for fastest computer quite seriously. “It’s a very impressive machine,” Mr. Dongarra said. “It’s a lot more powerful than the other computers.” The cost of building is about $1.3 billion.

The latest ranking of the top 500 computers is determined by running a standard mathematical equation. The winning computer was able to make 8.162 quadrillion calculations per second, or in more technical terms, 8.162 petaflops. K is made up of 672 cabinets filled with system boards. Although considered energy-efficient, it still uses enough electricity to power nearly 10,000 homes at a cost of around $10 million annually, Mr. Dongarra said. The performance of K is equivalent to linking around one million desktop computers, Mr. Dongarra said. The research lab that houses K plans to increase the computer’s size to 800 cabinets. That will raise its speed, which already exceeds that of its five closest competitors combined, Mr. Dongarra said.

“K” is short to the Japanese word “Kei,” which means 10 quadrillion, the ultimate goal for the number of calculations the computer can perform per second. A quadrillion is equal to 1,000 trillion K succeeded in pushing the previous leader, China’s Tianhe-1A supercomputer, at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, China, to second place. Tianhe-1A had been the first Chinese computer to be ranked on top, signaling the country’s growing technological might. The fastest computer in the United States, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., placed third.

In autumn of 2009, it was decided, in effect, that the supercomputer project should be frozen during a government budget-screening process. In one widely shown exchange the head of the project to build advanced supercomputers was asked to offer some good reason why the government should fund the project. The project head said to advance science and compete with the United States. The head of the panel responded by saying, “Does it matter if the United States is No.1...What’s wrong with being No. 2 in the world?” and refused a request to increase funding. Scientists, including some Nobel laureates condemned the freeze, arguing the money was vital for Japan to remain competitive in technology fields. The project was revived.

Developing Japan’s “K” Computer

The K computer, jointly developed by RIKEN and Fujitsu Ltd., recorded the world's top performance despite the fact that the project is still at 80 percent of its projected computing capacity. The K computer project is a government-backed program to design over a period of seven years to 2012 a computing system capable of performing 10 quadrillion calculations per second. It is named after the Japanese counting unit "kei" meaning 10 quadrillion. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 14, 2011]

Two of the companies participating in the project withdrew in May 2009. In November that year, House of Councillors member Renho of the Democratic Party of Japan, during the government's screening process of publicly funded projects, raised the famous question: "What's wrong being No. 2" — throwing into doubt the need for Japan to regain the world's No. 1 status in the field of supercomputing. An appeal by scientists to complete the K computer project as a symbol of Japan's strength in science and technology, and an expression of public support, prevented a freezing of the budget for the project, encouraging members to carry it out, Watanabe noted.

The project was led by Tadashi Watanabe, a scientist named to the position as recognition of his role in developing core technologies for the "Earth Simulator" supercomputer. While the project was be being scrutinized by the government as wasteful Watanabe's wife Mari was pronounced by doctors to have only six months to live. Watanabe did his utmost for his ailing wife, going back and forth between her sickbed and his workplace until she died from cancer. "I would have been really happy should I have been able to share with her the joy of the K computer's completion, which my wife was looking forward to seeing more than anyone else," Watanabe told the Yomiuri Shimbun with tears in his eyes.

The K computer is based on Sparc chips, originally designed at Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley. Timothy Prickett Morgan, wrote of The Register, The current K supercomputer is based on the "Venus" Sparc64-VIIIfx processor, which spins at 2GHz and delivers 128 gigaflops per chip, has a thermal efficiency of around 2.2 gigaflops per watt, and dissipates around 58 watts. The K super has 22,032 four-socket blade servers fitted into 864 server racks to bring 705,024 cores to bear on parallel computation jobs. The fully loaded K machine at Riken was just tested using the Linpack Fortran benchmark test and rated 10.51 teraflops, against a peak theoretical performance of 11.28 teraflops.” The K Computer “uses the "Tofu" 6D mesh/torus interconnect. Fujitsu is doubling up the core count with the Sparc64-IXfx processors, but is running the chips slightly slower, too, so it needs to add cabinets and stretch the Tofu interconnect to double up the number-crunching oomph of the machine. [Source: Timothy Prickett Morgan, The register, November 7, 2011]

Japanese K Supercomputer Smashes 10 Petaflop Barrier

In November 2011, the K Computer became the first system of its kind to break through the 10 Petaflop/s (PFlops) barrier. Wolfgang Gruener, Riken wrote in Tom’s Hardware: The K Computer claimed the top position on the Top 500 list back in June with a peak performance of 8.8 PFlops, which was achieved with 68,544 8-core Spark VIIIfx processors. The updated system includes 88,128 CPUs in 864 racks and scored a LINPACK benchmark result of 10.51 PFlops, which makes it the world's first known supercomputer to exceed the 10 PFlops barrier. [Source: Wolfgang Gruener, Riken, Tom’s Hardware, November 4, 2011]

“10 Pflops translates to 10 quadrillion floating point operations per second, which means that all 7 billion people in the world would need about 16.5 days to achieve the same number of calculations that K does in 1 second - if we assume that those 7 billion people can post one calculation result every second. The next milestone will be the 100 PFlops mark, which IBM recently mentioned in a patent filing. IBM's proposed BlueGene/Q system will include 524,288 16-core PowerPC A2 processors with a total core count of nearly 8.4 million. IBM estimates that this system can deliver up to 107 PFlops at a power consumption of about 15.7 MW. Scientists believe that the first Exascale supercomputer will be possible by about 2020.

“Timothy Prickett Morgan wrote in The Register, Fujitsu said it was not only going to commercialize the K supercomputer that just busted through the 10 petaflops barrier, but that early in 2012 it will double-stuff the design with a new Sparc64 chip, and sell it to entities other than the Japanese government. With the launch of the Sparc64-IXfx processor, and the PrimeHPC FX10 machines that will use it, Fujitsu says that it is making a commitment to a "Human Centric Intelligent Society by contributing to a prosperous future for society and customers through the continued development of supercomputers." [Source: Timothy Prickett Morgan, HPC, November 7, 2011]

“Fujitsu did not release many details on the new Sparc64-IXfx processor, that will be the brains of the massively parallel supercomputer, but did confirm that it had 16 cores and would run at 1.85GHz clock speeds. The chip is expected to do 236.5 gigaflops of double-precision math, and deliver more than 2 gigaflops per watt of performance at the chip level. If you do the math, that means the Sparc64-IXfx is burning at around 115 watts.

'K' Supercomputer Falls to No. 2 in Speed Rankings

In June 2012, The “K” supercomputer was toppled from its position as the world's fastest in terms of computing speed. Tthe Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “According to a biannual world ranking announced by the TOP500 project, the "K" supercomputer lost to Sequoia, a state-of-the-art computer developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States that reached a computation speed of 16.324 petaflops. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2012]

“One petaflop is the equivalent of 1 quadrillion operations per second. K's speed of computation is 10.51 petaflops. The K computer, developed jointly with Fujitsu Ltd., was given the top position in June and November 2011.

“Eiji Noyori wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Although it has fallen to second place on the list of the world's fastest computers, the K supercomputer is superior to rivals in other ways. It has a wide variety of uses compared to other highly ranked computers and is capable of continuously running without trouble.

'Mini' K Supercomputer to be Sold in 2013

In June 2012, Yomiuri Shimbun, reported: “The government-backed research institute Riken is developing a free scaled-down version of its K supercomputer that is able to use the same programs as the original. The smaller supercomputer will be available for online access throughout Japan after it is installed at Riken Wako Institute in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, around February. Riken is aiming to have the K computer in full operation in September. The 'mini' version will be compatible with K, so they can run the same programs. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2012]

“We'll offer the supercomputer for free as a trial version of K, so people can develop new programs or make adjustments to existing programs," a Riken official said. "So we hope many people use the computer." The K computer being used at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe performs 10 quadrillion (or one kei in Japanese) calculations per second. Highly advanced technology is needed to develop programs for K, which cannot use those developed for other supercomputers. This has led to concern that many people may hesitate to use K, despite wanting to use it to perform calculations for their research.

“The calculation speed of the scaled-down supercomputer will be about one thousandth of K's, almost the same as most supercomputers currently used in the business sector. The supercomputer will be available online, meaning people throughout the country can log into the Internet to access its programs instead of having to travel to Wako.

K Computer Drops to No. 3 in World Rankings in November 2012

Om November 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The K computer fell from second to third on the list of the world's fastest supercomputers, according to the latest semiannual global ranking. Titan, built by Cray Inc. of the United States, won first place on the TOP500 List, knocking IBM Corp.'s Sequoia out of the top spot. Titan achieved 17.59 petaflops, or quadrillions of calculations per second. The maximal performance of the K computer, installed at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe, was 10.51 petaflops, unchanged from June. It topped the list in June and November last year. The K computer began full operations in September this year and has been used to carry out 31 research projects in five fields, including medical care, disaster prevention and manufacturing. [Source: Jiji Press, November 14, 2012]

Image Sources: xorsyst blog

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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