In a sharply worded speech to the Security Council this week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia is "significantly behind" other countries in producing powerful supercomputers, and said the lag hurts Russia's competitiveness and its ability to defend itself.
Russia ranks 15th on the list of countries with the most powerful supercomputers, he noted, and 95 percent of the machines are manufactured in the U.S.
"If we are talking seriously, a huge number of entrepreneurs, not to mention officials, do not know what supercomputers are," he said. "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."
Later, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told the ITAR-TASS News Agency that although Russia is willing to cooperate with the U.S. to develop supercomputers, it will continue to develop its own.
Supercomputers have become essential in a wide range of industries -- aeronautics, weather reporting and climate prediction, gene analysis, drug development, geologic exploration and many more. IBM is working on a supercomputer that is so powerful, it will be able to compete against humans on the TV game show, Jeopardy, the company said in April.
But Russia has only one airplane created on a supercomputer, Medvedev said. "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."
Medvedev called on the Security Council to figure out where Russia needs supercomputers, improve the country's electronic components industry so it can manufacture more supercomputers, improve training in Russian universities, figure out how the government can support supercomputers and see that specialized software and grid networks are developed.
Russia can catch up, Patrushev told ITAR-TASS, because the U.S. used to lag in computer technologies, particularly against Japan.
In 2008, Purdue University's IT department assembled hundreds of Dell PowerEdge servers into a campus supercomputer in a single day. The machine was estimated to be capable of 60 teraflops per second, or 60 trillion operations.
InformationWeek Analytics has published an analysis of the current state of mainframes. Download the report here (registration required).