China’s supercomputer Tianhe is well applied to serve society

The motherboard of the Tianhe-3 supercomputer prototype is exhibited at the 2nd World Intelligence Congress. Photo by Li Shengli/People's Daily Online

As China’s first supercomputer that ever won the title of the world’s fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-1 has now become a sharp weapon that blazes the trail for China’s scientific innovation. I feel proud of my choice every time I see its rank.

I joined the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin eleven years ago, when the center just started operation. Back then, a two-bedroom apartment was the place where our team members ate, lived and worked.

When the system deployment and R&D for the Tianhe-1 was just initiated, we transformed the computer room in the daytime installing cables and cabinets, and had to work in shift at night. It was summer then, and we suffered frequent mosquito bites in the 1,000-square meter computer room, which was not air-conditioned. We slept on flattened cardboard boxes when we felt tired.

It was under such harsh conditions that we finished the job in seven months, which might take a year or longer for others.

Somebody once asked us where the motivation came from. I think it comes from the sense of responsibility, the sense of mission, and our passion for innovation. There’s no expression to describe our excitement of constructing China’s first national supercomputer center.

After the Tianhe-1 topped the list of the world’s fastest supercomputers, being fast was not an target any longer. It’s application that became the first priority. As the head of the application and R&D department, my team members and I developed the first large heterogeneous parallel stimulation software of fusion energy, as well as an integrated platform for oil-gas exploration data processing. Now, the Tianhe-1 is computing for over 8,000 research missions every day.

Apart from these professional missions, Tianhe supercomputers are also playing an important role in our daily life and production.

For enterprises, Tianhe supercomputers are a tool to reduce cost and improve efficiency. For instance, car and auto equipment manufacturers had to perform crash tests with real vehicles, which were not produced massively. This led to a high cost of these manufacturers. Thanks to a simulator run on Tianhe-1, tests are now simulated with digital technology, which not only reduced the development cycle of the products, but also saved cost for enterprises.

Weather forecast is an application of Tianhe supercomputers closest to the people. The forecasts we see in TV and mobile application all rely on supercomputers. Tianhe-1 is able to forecast precipitation and extreme weathers in the summer, while predict snows in the winter. After receiving data from satellites and meteorological stations, the supercomputers will project the change of weathers.

Innovation is endless. In the future, we’ll keep making efforts, so as to make Tianhe supercomputers render stronger support for the country’s independent innovation of information technology, as well as economic and social development.

(Meng Xiangfei is the head of the applied research and development department at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin.)

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