No. 1 is a tough spot to hold onto in the supercomputing game, as witnessed by K Computer at Japan's Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science. In mid-2011, the Fujitsu-made machine was up and running, and by the end of the year its installation was complete; it had just become the first computer to surpass the 10-petaflop barrier [source: Metz]. K Computer grabbed the top spot on the worldwide list in January 2012. But before the celebratory bottles of sake had cooled, the new No. 1 computer in world was already being installed.
That's not to say anything against the K Computer's strength. It's an extremely powerful computer system capable of some astounding research. Much of its work will be related to medical advancement. For example, Riken's research teams use computer simulation to study and predict biological processes in the human body at the molecular, genetic, cellular and organ levels.
Finally, one other lesson about international competition to take from the K Computer has as much to do with China as it does with Japan. The Japanese have been leaders in supercomputing for a long time, but like everything in Asia, pressure from a technologically rising China is driving everyone to work harder. Japan has made no secret of its intentions to stay on top.