The European Commission last week said it is doubling its investment in the push for exascale computing from €630 million to €1.2 billion (£1 billion). The announcement comes even as European governments are imposing austerity measures to prevent defaults.
The EU announced the plan the same week the White House released its fiscal year 2013 budget, which envisions a third year of anemic funding to develop exascale technologies. Last year, the US Department of Energy (DOE) asked for nearly $91 million (£57 million) in funding for the efforts in the current fiscal year; it received $73.4 million.
In the budget proposal delivered to Congress, the White House has asked for $89.5 million, although there's additional money for exascale tucked away in other DOE budgets as well as in defense budgets. That level of investment, according to Earl Joseph, an HPC analyst for IDC, is "peanuts" for a programme that may require billions of dollars.
Meanwhile, China is moving ahead with its own plans and has the financial resources and human talent to make progress in exascale computing. The Europeans may be particularly worried about China.
"Their biggest threat is that China is just going to bury them," said Joseph. "With this level of investment, it gives them a chance to hold their own and maybe get a little bit a head of the game."
IDC analysts have been advising European authorities on HPC. The research firm recommended that Europe focus on developing applications that can utilise exascale systems and put less emphasis on developing hardware. IBM, HP and Intel, in particular, dominate HPC hardware system building.
Europe and China both see opportunity in the push for exascale, which involves building systems 1,000 times more powerful than anything running today, an order of magnitude that has occurred about every 10 years in HPC development. An exascale system will be able to reach 1 quintillion (or 1 million trillion) floating point operations per second.
But exascale systems "pose numerous hard challenges," said the European Commission in a report that accompanied its funding announcements. The challenges include a 100-fold reduction in energy consumption along with development of new programming models. As Europe sees it, solving these challenges creates opportunity for Europe, China and others looking to take on US HPC dominance.
"These challenges are the same for all actors in the field and cannot be met by mere extrapolation, but require radical innovation in many computing technologies," wrote the EC in its report. "This offers opportunities to industrial and academic players in the EU to reposition themselves in the field."
As for China, "the Chinese are very practical in this regard," said Joseph. "They are very interested in how they use their machines to make their industries stronger."
In announcing Europe's investment, Neelie Kroes, the European Commission vice president responsible for the effort, said in a statement that "high performance computing is a crucial enabler for European industry and for more jobs in Europe. We've got to invest smartly in this field, because we cannot afford to leave it to our competitors."