Struggling NEC Exits Supercomputing Project


The move is the latest by NEC to cut expenses, following the decisions to lay off 20,000 employees and exit the North American PC business

Struggling computing giant NEC is dropping out of program backed by the Japanese government to build the fastest supercomputer in the world.

NEC’s announcement on 14 May that it was exiting the Next-Generation Supercomputer Project to help cut costs during the global recession came two days after the company announced that it had lost more than $3 billion (£1.97bn) during its fiscal year, which ended in March.

It’s unclear what impact the defection will have on the supercomputing project.

It’s the latest move by the company to pare expenses, following the decision to cut its PC business in North America and lay off as many as 20,000 workers worldwide.

NEC has been working on the supercomputing project for two years with Hitachi and Fujitsu, as well as the Riken Institute. The project’s goal is to design and build the fastest supercomputer in the world, which will be used in scientific research.

The supercomputer expected to reach the 10 petaflops area, powered by a hybrid scalar engine and a vector engine. Fujitsu has completed testing of a prototype of its Venus Sparc64 chip, which the company claimed to be the fastest chip in the world The eight-core Venus will be used in the scalar half of the supercomputer, which is scheduled to be fully operational in 2011.

NEC officials said the difficult economic conditions worldwide make it untenable to continue working on the project.

“NEC estimated that costs for moving forward with the manufacturing phase of the Next-Generation Supercomputer Project would significantly impact earnings for the fiscal year ending in March 2010, due to extensive investment required for the computer’s manufacturing,” NEC officials said in a statement. “Therefore, NEC has decided not to participate in the project’s manufacturing phase.”

Hitachi, which had been working with NEC in developing the vector CPU for the project, reportedly also dropped out of the project after NEC made its announcement. Hitachi May 12 announced an $8 billion (£5.26bn) loss for its fiscal year, which also ended in March.

NEC officials said the company would continue work on its own supercomputing projects through the continued development of vector technologies. NEC also will continue to look for ways to deal rein in expenses during the recession.

“NEC is considering a wide variety of options, including project review and restructuring, in order to raise revenue and successfully navigate the considerable market changes that are expected to emerge from today’s worldwide economic crisis as a part of middle and long term strategic plans,” the company said in the statement.

NEC is no stranger to supercomputers. Its massive Earth Simulator stood atop the Top500 listing as the world’s fastest supercomputer for years in the early part of this decade.

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