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Superstumble For Japan's Supercomputer

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Two private companies have recently withdrawn from a Japanese consortium established to build the world's fastest supercomputer. The Next-Generation Supercomputer is a seven-year, $1 billion national project funded by Japan's Ministry of Education. Japan's network of national labs, RIKEN, is leading the development with support from several universities and private companies. The supercomputer would be located at RIKEN's campus in Kobe.

NEC and Hitachi recently withdrew from the project. Both companies had worked on the design of processors for the supercomputer. Their withdrawal could require revisions to the computer's configuration, which might affect software being developed by other consortium members, says project head and RIKEN supercomputing expert Tadashi Watanabe. Project scientists are writing code capable of simulating the formation of a galaxy, modeling Earth's climate, and assisting in drug discovery and earthquake-resistant building designs. Watanabe says the departure of NEC and Hitachi was a surprise, but the project is doing everything possible to stay on schedule and complete the supercomputer by 2012.

The supercomputer is designed to achieve speeds of 10 petaflops, which would have been the world's fastest computer when it was proposed in 2005. However, a 20-petaflop supercomputer being developed by IBM for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, also is scheduled for completion in 2012.

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