Iran announced this week that its new supercomputer, Simorgh, has debuted with a peak performance of 0.56 petaflops and plans to reach 1 petaflop in two months.
Al Jazeera reported that Simorgh was "said to be wholly designed and built by a team of Iranian engineers, who developed the country’s first supercomputer a decade ago, but some of its hardware has been imported." (The original source is the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, but we can't find the report on its English website.)
It's not clear from where the Amirkabir University of Technology, which developed Simorgh, would have been able to import the parts required to build the system. The U.S. government has imposed harsh restrictions on the sale of American tech—or products created using those technologies, like the processors and GPUs most commonly used in supercomputers—to companies operating in Iran.
Remember that part of the U.S. government's complaints regarding Huawei were that the company allegedly skirted American sanctions to sell equipment to Iran. That wasn't the sole motivation behind Huawei's blacklisting, of course, but it served as a useful reminder that the U.S. has strict policies regarding exports to Iran. It also serves as an example of how countries such as Iran can get around US sanctions.
Al Jazeera reported that Simorgh "is said to comprise 42 racks in an area of approximately 250sq meters (2,690 sq feet) based on the TIA-942 standard and is projected to be upgraded to 84 racks laid out in an area of 400sq meters (4,305 square feet)." Iran's government provided half its $4.5 million development budget.
Simorgh will purportedly be "used in analysing artificial intelligence, crunching traffic and weather data, and image processing." It's also set to be followed by another supercomputer, Maryam, expected to "have 100 times the capacity of Simorgh." Work on Maryam has already started, but it doesn't have a firm deployment date.
It's worth putting that 100x better performance in perspective. Right now the most powerful supercomputer in the world is an Arm-based system in Japan called Fugaku. It's said to offer performance up to 415.5 petaflops. The next-highest, IBM Summit, offers 148.6 petaflops. Maryam's 100 petaflops target pales in comparison.
That figure is also based on many assumptions: that Simorgh's performance will reach 1 petaflops; that AUT can offer a 100x performance increase in a second-gen supercomputer; and that all of the parts on which Maryam will rely can be imported without running afoul of U.S. restrictions on American-developed technologies.
The last one might be the hardest to believe given U.S.-Iran relations. The U.S. also made it clear it takes the development of supercomputers in countries with which it has some tension (to put it mildly) seriously by blacklisting seven Chinese companies for helping build supercomputers for the Chinese People Liberation Army.