President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear colleagues, today we are not going to discuss a routine matter – I would even say that it is not crisis-related but rather strategic. We are talking about the creation and use of supercomputers or so-called grid technologies, technologies that make up computing infrastructure.
It's no secret that the majority of the most developed and advanced nations are focusing on this. It is obvious that the large-scale use of high technology data processing increases the effects of research many times over, radically reduces the cost of designing the most advanced and complex types of products, naturally increases the quality of industrial products, and streamlines business processes.
It is precisely for these reasons that the entire world is working on this. Any country that makes headway in relation to creating supercomputers has, of course, advantages in terms of competitiveness, increasing its defence capacities, and strengthening security.
In Russia such work has been carried out for quite a long time now. A number of our results are absolutely in line with global trends, comparable to the major development trends of supercomputer technologies. In addition to special-purpose supercomputers we have established major centres at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the federal nuclear centres of Rosatom national corporation, Moscow State University, and Russian Research Centre Kurchatov Institute.
Incidentally, we worked on this subject within the national project, Education. We set supercomputer centres with teraflops [a measure of computing capacity: one trillion floating point operations per second] performance. These are of course also good supercomputers, although it is possible that they will be surpassed by the ones I mentioned earlier. They are found in Siberia, in Taganrog, Tomsk and Chelyabinsk.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that we have something to show for our efforts, we remain significantly behind the global leaders. In the list of countries which have the most powerful supercomputers, we rank 15th. As is well-known, 476 out of 500 supercomputing systems use computers manufactured in the United States of America. Therefore, in general our situation is very difficult.
To overcome this gap we need a clear idea of what to do next and, naturally, systematic and coordinated work on all fronts and in all agencies. As practice shows, the creation and use of supercomputers is carried out with critical governmental financial and organisational support. Strictly speaking, this is a kind of scientific activity (a commercial one if you will) that involves government participation in almost all countries, precisely because of its high costs and, most importantly, its significant effects for almost all sectors of the economy.
So of course we need to act the same way and provide governmental support for this topic, while involving the scientific and expert community as well as big business, who should of course be involved in such technology.
Just recently, a week ago in Sarov at a meeting of the Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia's Economy, we talked about this theme, one of those put forward during our meeting. Of course the issue of the demand for these computers occasioned special interest: naturally everybody says they are in favour of using supercomputer technologies but it is different in practice. In fact, only a few are familiar with this new technological framework and use these computers accordingly to generate digital models of various processes – flying, driving, and all other processes.
If we are talking seriously, a huge number of entrepreneurs, not to mention officials, do not know what supercomputers are: for them it is an exotic type of those machines that were created in the 1920s to catch up and overtake America. It is the same in this field, it is something which seems to be detached from the reality of practical life. Today businesses and federal agencies do not manifest their interest in supercomputer technology. Such possibilities tend to be ignored, even when their application may result in a breakthrough.
The Commission took stock of the situation: we have only extremely few aircraft (actually one airplane) created on a supercomputer, that is only one that exists in digital form. Everything else is done on Whatman’s drawing paper like in the 1920s and 30s using the old approaches. It’s obvious that here only a digital approach can have a breakthrough effect, lead to dramatic improvements in quality, and reduce the cost of the product.
Moreover I am talking about a wide range of industries: the aircraft industry, rocket and space technology, geologic exploration, and the development of new materials, medicines and vaccines, the sorts of industry that require a substantial amount of numerical calculations and research. Of course all this should lead to better forecasting, planning and managing of the most complex processes.
Of course our country will invest in the production of supercomputers. In this regard we don’t have any choice if we want to be at the cutting edge. Along with this only one thing really matters, and that is to what extent they will be used.
Let me say once again that we have to work at stimulating demand in every possible way, not because this is a fashionable topic, but simply because if we don’t create such a demand our products will not be competitive or of interest to potential buyers. Once again any sort of airframe or engine that is not produced with the aid of supercomputers is unlikely to trigger interest among buyers in a few years, because even now there are standards already set and so far we are doing practically nothing to meet them.
There are five challenges that we have to confront and deal with.
First, determine the priority areas for the use of supercomputers and grid computing in national security and socio-economic development, that is, the primary areas in which we will be using supercomputers.
Second, identify measures to improve the domestic electronic component base so that it better corresponds with the production needs of supercomputers. So far this has proven to be very, very difficult.
Third, an obvious precondition is the need to develop a full-fledged legislative framework that applies to supercomputers.
Fourth, we must ensure the conditions for constructing the so-called grid networks, paying of course particular attention to the scientific and educational sphere where these networks may be in greatest demand.
In addition we need specialised software for a certain class of problems. We do not have it yet, or at any rate it’s not ubiquitous, though we have made advances in some areas of programming for supercomputers, perhaps even more than our competitors. This is our advantage.
Fifth, we need to organise a system for training experts in Russia's leading universities. The Commission laid out some ways of doing this that I think will be reflected in the report that will be made by the relevant ministers and in the record of our deliberations.
Strictly speaking, these are our five main objectives.
I hope that today we will be discussing all the areas I’ve outlined, and proposing effective mechanisms for the implementation of all our responses to these challenges.
Let's get to work.