China has unveiled a sleek, ultra modern-appearing design for its new supercomputing centre, apparently rejecting the windowless, boxy design of typical data centre complexes with an architectural style - including a saucer-shaped building - that may reflect the country's broader supercomputing ambitions.
A ground-breaking for the new National Supercomputing Center was held on Sunday. The facility, to be located in Changsha, in China's central Hunan Province, will house the Tianhe-1A, which was ranked last month as the world's fastest supercomputer at 2.5 petaflops.
A rendering of China's third National Supercomputing Center. China's Xinhua News Agency published the image on Monday.
Tad Davies, executive vice president of the Bick Group, a company whose work includes data center design, looked at the rendering and said it doesn't offer much in the way of specifics. Renderings are created to "create impressions" rather than reflect realities, he said.
Although Davies isn't sure which of the two building will house the supercomputer, the elevated round building would have to be constructed to handle the data centre's significant weight loads. Also, round building are not space efficient.
The round roof could be used collect water. But the underground level visible in the image "would be an ideal location," for the computer, he said. The rectangular building is set to house labs, classrooms and offices, Davies suspects.
China has launched an aggressive supercomputing development schedule, according to slides from a presentation made by an official at the Supercomputing Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences at an exascale conference in October.
From 2011-2015, China wants to build at least one system capable of 50 to 100 petaflops. The US plans to launch at least two 20-petaflop systems in 2012, one at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the other at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
China has set a target of 2016 to 2020 for its first exascale system (an exaflop is thousands times faster than a petaflop). The US has approved funding for initial steps in exascale funding, but has not set aside funding for vendors to begin working with scientists on systems development.
China, like other countries, will be using its supercomputing capability for scientific research, such as sandstorm prediction, climate models, but also military uses.
One slide that was part of the Chinese academy presentation shows a jet plane and military ship, and says the system is being used for "stealth design of airplanes," and RCS, which may represent Radar Countermeasures System.
This slide, from an academy presentation, illustrates electromagnetic scattering, part of the science behind development of stealth aircraft.
China's increasing aerospace capabilities and its development of stealth aircraft was the subject of a hearing earlier this year by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, where Wayne Ulman, the China issue manager at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, said in testimony that the Chinese military "is working on a very comprehensive approach to information superiority."
"[China seeks to] integrate electronic warfare, cyber operations, PSYOPS (Psychological Operations), denial and deception, and kinetic attack to defeat adversary information systems," Ulman testified. "The PLA (People's Liberation Army) seem intent on integrating electronic warfare with cyber operations."
In releasing the rendering of the supercomputing centre, Chinese officials did not detail what kind of research will be conducted at the supercomputing centre. But a photo of the ground-breaking on Sunday showed 11 people, and among them two people wearing what appeared to be military uniforms.
A photo from the ground-breaking ceremony for the supercomputing centre shows two people, third from left and fourth from right, apparently dressed in military uniforms.
Construction is expected to be completed by the end of next year.