NEC to withdraw from Japan supercomputer project due to slump

By Mari Yamaguchi, Gaea News Network
Thursday, May 14, 2009

nec-logoNEC to quit Japan supercomputer project

TOKYO — Japanese electronics giant NEC Corp. said Thursday it will withdraw from a government-led project to produce a next-generation supercomputer, citing falling profits amid the global economic crisis. The decision could deal a major setback for Japan’s ambitious plan to develop a supercomputer that is much faster than the current leader. Hitachi, who was working on NEC’s contract for the project, will also have to pull out.

The government-funded research institute Riken, which runs the program, said it will review the estimated 110 billion yen ($1.15 billion) project that was launched in September 2006.

Riken did not give details about a possible replacement for NEC and Hitachi. But the institute said it plans to stick to its schedule — which calls for production of a prototype to start by March 2010 and completion in 2012.

Despite the setback, Fujitsu Ltd. is still working on another system being developed by the program.

NEC — which had played a key role in earlier phases of architecture design, review and development of the system — said its own struggling business has forced it to halt participation in the manufacturing phase of the project.

It recorded a net loss of 297 billion yen ($3 billion) last fiscal year through March amid the global slump, down sharply from a profit of 22.7 billion yen.

“A manufacturing phase would require a substantial investment, and a share of the cost would cause us a major impact on our business performance for the current fiscal year,” NEC said in a statement.

Supercomputers are used for advanced research in areas such as space science, environmental simulations and meteorology, which require massive calculations.

Japan’s project, which is now at its final stage of system design, aims to develop the world’s fastest supercomputers that can operate as fast as 10 petaflops. Each petaflop is 1,000 trillion operations per second.

The current record is one petaflop achieved last year by U.S. scientists, including IBM Corp.

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