US Government refuses Intel from helping China in updating its supercomputer fearing nuclear risks

US government has blocked Intel from supplying microprocessor chips to China for upgrading their supercomputer fearing nuclear risks.

The US Department of Commerce rejected Intel’s application of license for exporting tens of thousands of Xeon chips to update China’s biggest supercomputer, Tianhe-2 computer. Surprisingly on the other hand, US government has signed a contract with Intel for $200m (£136m)  to build an enormous supercomputer in one of its National Laboratory located in Illinois.

An Intel spokesman said that, last August, Intel had stopped the shipments and applied for an export license when the Santa Clara chipmaker received a letter from the US Commerce Department stating Intel would require an export license for supplying chips for a Chinese supercomputer Tianhe-2, which translates to “Milky Way-2.”

Chuck Molloy, an Intel spokesman said: “We were selling them standard off-the-shelf parts. Once we got the letter, we stopped shipment of parts.”

The parts that are being referred to here are the powerful Xeon processors which  is manufactured by Intel Corp and used in the data center servers and other such related workstations.

Tianhe-2, worlds biggest supercomputer, was a  joint venture of China’s National University of Defense Technology and Inspur which is a Chinese IT company. It has been placed first in the Top 500, an organisation monitoring the supercomputers, during 2013 and 2014. With a potentiality of tens of thousands of Xeon chips this supercomputer has been installed at  China’s National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou, in southern China. As per the Top 500 website:  “Tianhe-2 has 16,000 nodes, each with two Intel Xeon IvyBridge processors and three Xeon Phi processors for a combined total of 3,120,000 computing cores.” In simple words the Tianhe-2 utilizes 8000 Intel Xeon chips to generate a data processing capacity of more than 33 petaflops (just for information: a petaflop is equal to about one quadrillion calculations per second.) This year the Chinese supercomputer was suppose to undergo further up gradation by using the new Xeon chips from Intel so as to boost its computational capacity by 110 petaflops. Intel informed US Department of Commerce about its involvement in this updation program and immediately it was asked to apply for the export license.

As per an online notice published by US Department of Commerce it believes that ‘the Chinese Supercomputers were being used for “nuclear explosive activities”‘ and hence the Department of Commerce rejected export license, to Intel to provide the chips to Tianhe-2 along with the other three Chinese Supercomputers. The US export regulations already has a clause that supports this rejection of the export license in regards to the technologies used in the “design, development or fabrication” of nuclear weapons. Further, the notice says that U.S. suspected all the four institutions, where these supercomputers were supposed to placed, could act against the US national security.

In an interview given to IDG newswire Intel said: “Intel complied with the notification and applied for the licence, which was denied. We are in compliance with the US law.” An industry analyst says the refusal of chips to China does not make much sense because it does not stop China from getting the chips from alternative sources. And China seems to have decided to continue with its up gradation program of boosting the power of its four supercomputer by using its domestic chip making industry.

In the meanwhile, US has signed up a contract with Intel to build a supercomputer which will be known as Aurora Supercomputer which is expected to have a power of 180 petaflops!! The blocking of technology exports by U.S. Department of Commerce to China is not only a blow to Intel corp and other hardware suppliers but it could further add to the list of the existing technology tensions between the two countries.

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