Supercomputer global four consecutive championships: the story behind Tianhe II

“Tianhe No.2” is a national 863 plan and a “nuclear high-base” national science and technology major special project completed by the National Defense Science and Technology University. It was put into operation in the National Supercomputing Guangzhou Center in November 2013 and is open to users at home and abroad. At present, “Tianhe No.2” has built materials science and engineering calculation, bio-computing and personalized medicine, digital design and equipment manufacturing, digital design of energy and related technologies, earth science and environmental engineering calculation, smart city and big data processing. The six application service platforms have played an important role in genetic analysis and sequencing, large aircraft and high-speed train design, biomedicine, e-government and smart cities, and have achieved significant economic and social benefits.

At the World Supercomputer Conference held on November 20, 2014, “Tianhe No. 2” ranked first in the world in the supercomputer high-performance conjugate gradient (HPCG) benchmark test list officially released by the international TOP500 organization. Previously, in the forty-fourth World Top 500 Supercomputers list released by the organization, “Tianhe No. 2” once again topped the list and won the “four consecutive championships” in the world. Recently, the "Economic Daily" reporter interviewed the relevant personnel of the "Tianhe No. 2" research team and the head of the National Supercomputing Tianjin Center to explore the story behind the country's heavy weapon "Tianhe No.2".


The four championship trophies are undoubtedly a joyful event for the Chinese supercomputer team. However, for other old superpowers, their hearts are like overturning the cruet. The strong "hands-on" came along, just before the release of the world's top 500 supercomputers, the second-ranked US announced the "coral" plan, which said it would invest $325 million to build two supercomputers. The calculation speed may reach 3 to 5 times that of "Tianhe No. 2".

"In the field of supercomputers, international competition has been around for a long time. Before the 'Tianhe No. 1' won the championship, the 'first battle' between the US and Japan has already existed," said Zhu Xiaoqian, deputy chief designer of Tianhe High Performance Computer Systems. Zhang Yunquan, secretary-general of the High Performance Computing Committee of the Chinese Computer Society, told reporters that "the United States and Japan are particularly concerned about whether their super-calculation is the world's number one. Once they lose the 'first' title, they will be forced to take it back." The actual situation is indeed the case, "Tianhe After the first win at the end of 2010, Japan, which suffered a nuclear accident at Fukushima, is still urgently accumulating to accelerate the development of its supercomputer "Jing". It has been on the throne for half a year, followed by the US "Redwood" and "Titan". Also won the world's first position.

"You sing, I am on the stage." The champion's throne is often taken away from the new competitors. People can't help but ask, what is this fierce competition for?

Answering this question has to start with what the supercomputer can do. The reporter recently came to the National Supercomputing Tianjin Center for an interview. It runs China's first petascale supercomputer - "Tianhe No.1". In the past five years, “Tianhe No.1” has won the favor of many users with its superior computing power and accurate calculation results. At present, the center operates more than 1,000 computing tasks per day, 1.4 million hours of computing services, and more than 600 service users. "The charm of 'Tianhe No.1' is popular, it can be counted, counted, and counted," said Liu Guangming, director of the National Supercomputing Tianjin Center.

Counting days: Researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Numerical Simulation of Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics used the “Tianhe No. 1” to complete the simulation of the trans-millennial climate change and submitted the IPCC report to the UN Climate Change Conference using the self-developed climate model. Meng Xiangfei, a researcher at the National Supercomputing Tianjin Center, said: "Since Chinese scientists have established a climate change model with 'Tianhe No. 1', China has not only developed its own climate impact basis, but the established model has also become an internationally recognized model standard for China. He has won the right to speak in this field."

Calculated by: The development and application of high-performance petroleum exploration data processing software based on “Tianhe No.1” solved the large-scale data processing capability of the independent application software in China's petroleum exploration field, and made the seismic data of Dalian film and high-density oil exploration in China. The processing capacity has increased by more than 50 times and reached the world's leading level.

Counting people: analyzing human genes and interpreting the mysteries of life are now inseparable from the calculation and processing of big data. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Beijing Institute of Life Sciences and other units have used the "Tianhe No. 1" to carry out research in the fields of epilepsy, AIDS, cancer, etc., and have achieved a number of internationally advanced results.

"'Tianhe No.1' not only provides a higher fulcrum for scientific research and technological innovation, but also provides a faster and better runway for industrial development." Liu Guangming said. It is precisely with the support of “Tianhe No.1” that the core competitiveness of some industrial fields in China is being built.

Whether simulating climate change or demonstrating an earthquake tsunami; whether it is designing an aerospace vehicle or developing a new domestic engine; or genetic sequencing, high-speed train design and manufacturing, supercomputers can complete analysis, calculation and processing. "Supercomputers are like crystal balls that can predict the future, everything can be simulated on a computer." Jack Tangara, a professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee in the United States, said, "The faster the supercomputer, the more accurate the calculations, meaning engineers can Designing better products, from airplanes and ships to small pharmaceutical and apparel fabrics."

From "Galaxy" to "Tianhe"

"High-performance computer is a veritable 'national weapon'. Its development and application level not only represents the country's level of scientific and technological development, but also a key weapon for the country to shape its core competitiveness in innovation and economic construction." National 863 Program High Performance Qian Depei, the leader of the computer and its core software major special group, commented.

Because of this, the research and development of supercomputers in China has been severely sealed by foreign countries.

There are two things that have been raised by the "Tianhe people" for many years.

Before the reform and opening up, China did not have high-performance computers of international advanced level. The data and materials for exploration of petroleum deposits had to be sent to foreign countries for processing. It was not only expensive but also subject to people; a domestic unit wanted to import an operating speed of 400 per second. Ten thousand times of computers, the foreign party actually proposed: to build a safe "glass house" for this machine, the Chinese personnel on the machine operation must be carried out under the supervision of the foreign party, and research outside the contract must not be carried out.

The past is vivid, always inspiring the "Tianhe people" to work hard and climb to the world's super-calculated "Mount Everest".

"China must engage in four modernizations, and there must be no supercomputers!" In 1978, Comrade Deng Xiaoping was far-sighted and handed over the task of developing a supercomputer to the National University of Defense Technology. A large number of scientific and technological personnel of the National Defense Science and Technology University, aiming at the world's advanced supercomputer technology, worked hard to solve the problem. It took only five years to develop China's first billion-megacomputer that was known as the "gas-powered machine." In November 1983, the "Galaxy" billion supercomputers were displayed in front of the world, achieving a breakthrough in China's supercomputer. Since then, they have successively developed the "Galaxy" series of supercomputers, and pushed China's supercomputing technology to the international frontier step by step.

In the new century, "Tianhe people" blew the assembly number of climbing the world's science and technology peaks - the early development of China's petascale supercomputer system. "The development of supercomputers is 1,000 times better every 10 years. The international advanced level in 2000 is 1 trillion times. By 2010, it will definitely reach the trillions of subordinates. To occupy the commanding heights, we must start developing trillions of dollars as soon as possible. Second computer." Yang Xuejun, the chief architect of the "Tianhe No. 1" at the time and the current president of the National Defense Science and Technology University, said.

Is this step too big? Many people have doubts, but the national strategy cannot be waited.

The burden is again on the shoulders of the "Tianhe people." The "Tianhe people" who lived in the blood with the "Galaxy Spirit" once again faced difficulties. Recalling the scene at the time, his career was almost "the same age" as the history of Chinese supercomputer development. Liu Guangming, who had participated in the development of Galaxy-II and Galaxy-III in China, said with emotion, "It is really not easy."

Behind every technology is the extraordinary effort: just to adjust the performance parameters of the network interconnection software to the best state of the hardware, in three months, "Tianhe people" conducted hundreds of millions of test experiments. They work almost ten hours a day, and only spend three days during the Spring Festival. For all of this, Jiang Shouping, the chief designer of the "Tianhe No. 2" host system, thinks it is normal. When the reporter asked him to tell the story of the past difficulties, Jiang Shouping was silent for a while, and could not remember. "The hundreds of millions of stars meet the Milky Way, and it is difficult for the world to know how many. The gods are wonderfully arranged, and they laugh at the stars." Perhaps the "Tianhe Building", which is still brightly lit at three or four in the morning, can tell us all about it.

The sweat that has been paid has been harvested. In November 2010, “Tianhe No.1” won the first place in the world; two and a half years later, in June 2013, “Tianhe No.2” won the world championship, and the peak calculation speed jumped from 4.7 teraflops per second to 5.4 billion billion seconds, achieving a leap from a trillion to a billion.

From "Galaxy" to "Tianhe", from "Tianhe No.1" to "Tianhe No.2", the "Tianhe Innovation" team has handed over a copy of the world in order to complete the national mission and dream of "super-calculating" the world with a forward-looking vision. Wonderful answer sheet.

Jiang Shouping told reporters that the average age of the "Tianhe" team is currently less than 40 years old. The young technicians who have participated in the development of "Tianhe No.1" have now grown into the backbone of the development of "Tianhe No.2". The generation of "Tianhe people" has moved forward and become the backbone of China's future high-performance computing.

Solve the breakthrough

The development of Chinese supercomputers has undoubtedly brought countless marvels to the world.

In more than three years, the world's fastest supercomputer has been developed twice; in just over a decade, the number of supercomputers has jumped from zero to the second in the world; in the last 10 years, the performance of Chinese supercomputers has increased by 5,000 times. While the performance of the US supercomputer has only increased 500 times in the same period...

What made the leap-forward development of China's supercomputers? Qian Depei said that the reason why the Galaxy and Tianhe series have achieved such impressive performance has benefited from a series of independent innovations of major technologies and clearly demonstrated the strength of China's science and technology. Great progress.

Supercomputers are giants that integrate tens of thousands of CPUs. In the traditional way, increasing the speed of the supercomputer can increase the number of processors, or increase the number of CPU cores. Jiang Zheping told reporters that "the traditional method is difficult to sustain, and the increase in the number of CPUs is mainly limited by power consumption, floor space, and system reliability." According to the introduction, a multi-billion-per-second super is built according to the traditional method. The computer needs to cover an area of ​​13,000 square meters, which is as large as two football fields; it needs 320 megawatts of electricity, which is equivalent to the electricity consumption of a large and medium-sized city.

Obviously, according to the traditional scheme, it will not work. First, we must solve a series of troubles and challenges brought by the growth of the machine: how to reduce power consumption and save energy? How to increase density and save space in the computer room? How to break through memory and network I/O Bottlenecks, complementing the shortcomings of the system? How to optimize the development of parallel software, improve efficiency, and ensure data consistency?

It’s hard to get on, when Yang Xuejun, the chief designer of “Tianhe No.1”, decided to lead his team, taking the lead in adopting the CPU+GPU heterogeneous fusion architecture in the world, and using GPU to accelerate the running of general applications. In the past few years, this structure has gradually become the international mainstream due to its advantages of low energy consumption, low cost, and high integration.

Under the overall efforts of the “Tianhe” team, similar independent innovations are one by one. Nowadays, many key technologies of “Tianhe No.2” have attracted worldwide attention: “New heterogeneous polymorphic architecture” has greatly improved the calculation speed of the system; the performance of high-speed interconnect system is twice that of the current international commercial interconnection system. The integrated energy consumption control mechanism has achieved the international advanced energy efficiency ratio; independently developed a new generation of high-performance general-purpose "Feiteng-1500" CPU with the highest domestic frequency, which strongly supports high-throughput and high-security information service applications. The high-density, high-precision assembly structure makes the system's footprint equal to that of “Tianhe No.1”, but its performance has increased by 11.6 times...

"It can be said that the overall research and development capability of China's supercomputer system is now in the forefront of the international market, and some technologies such as the system structure have been leading the international level." Zhu Xiaoqian said. From partial breakthroughs to comprehensive technology leadership, from struggling to gradual transcendence, the history of the world's supercomputers has left a deep mark of "China's creation."

Because of a series of independent innovations, Chinese supercomputer researchers have won respect in the world. Liu Guangming still clearly remembers that it is very difficult to visit foreign supercomputer companies and participate in foreign supercomputer conferences in the past. Even if you are fortunate enough to participate, the Chinese staff's itinerary will be tracked, what you read, and what you asked will be reported. Nowadays, the initiative invitation has replaced the rejection, and the enthusiasm has replaced the cold treatment. Bernd Mohr, consultant of the EU's Seventh Framework Research Program and the "Tianhe No. 1" cooperation project and professor of the German Lich Supercomputing Center, said that China has rich experience in the field of supercomputers, and the EU hopes to provide future high-performance computing development plans through this cooperation. Guidance and reference.

"Of course, there are shortcomings in China's supercomputer field." Qian Depei told reporters that the biggest shortcoming lies in the application, and there is still a big gap between the software and the international advanced level. I hope that the country will regard supercomputers as a major infrastructure for the long-term development of the country. Continued support for construction will make the supercomputer, the “national weapon”, work better.

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