The Commerce Department, in the Federal Register, has proposed some significant changes to the Export Control Rules. The changes seem subtle and arcane (a change of 'and' to 'or', changing country of citizenship to country of birth OR citizenship (whichever is more restrictive), and a couple of "clarifications"). But the implications appear huge, especially the 'and' to 'or' change. Assuming I'm reading this correctly, it sounds like whoever allows a foreign citizen to use a supercomputer (or other export controlled device) has to get an export license and approval from the federal government. And just about every remotely decent cluster qualifies. Will universities be forced to deny access to Chinese graduate students? What if someone had the misfortune to be born in Iran? Or Cuba? It's not too late to submit comments (mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, with "RIN 0694-AD29" in the subject line), as the comment period extends until May 27th.
For export purposes, a "Supercomputer" is a system capable of 190,000 MTOPS (Million Theoretical Operations Per Second). The definition generally includes clusters of systems, not just individual computers. As the MTOPS is basically any instruction, at the maximum theoretical peak of every functional unit running as efficiently as possible, a normal computer actually scores very high. AMD conveniently publishes theses values, so a Dual Processor Opteron 248 is 15,000 MTOPS. Thus a cluster of only 13 $3000 Sun Fire v20z would be called a supercomputer and subject to US export controls. A computer lab where users can submit jobs to multiple systems simultaneously might also qualify.
Note, I initally saw this elsewhere today (I don't remember where), but I decided to actually look at the proposed rule. Yes, it is this scary.