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U.S. funds exascale computing research

To speed delivery of the nation's first exascale computer, the Department of Energy announced $258 million in funding to support research in hardware technology, software technology and application development. The goal is to develop at least one exascale-capable system by 2021.

The funding is provided under the agency's Exascale Computing Project, which is part of the DOE's  PathForward program for high-performance computing development. Exascale systems will be at least 50 times faster than the nation’s most powerful computers today, and global competition for this technological dominance is fierce, officials said.

The technology stands to not only help researchers unlock the secrets of the universe, but along the way vastly improve data analytics in cybersecurity, climate change modeling, aerodynamics and energy applications.

China has been accelerating development of supercomputers in recent years and is home to the most powerful high-performance computing system. In the spring of 2016, China debuted its 93 petaflop Sunway TaihuLight system at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi. According to a report from a meeting hosted by DOE and the National Security Agency, many experts agreed that China would be leading the world in supercomputing by 2020. China has said that it plans to break the exascale barrier by 2020.

The ECP program and the push to get an exascale system, or possibly two, operational isn't to catch up to China, said ECP Director Paul Messina. Its goal is to develop an exascale computer that is capable of working through actual applications. Messina said it's unclear if China's system is exascale only at raw peak operational speed, or like the EPC's effort, it will be capable of working on actual applications. 

Messina said the joint development with commercial companies is essential to tackle development of memory architectures, higher speed interconnects, improved reliability and approaches for increasing computing power without prohibitive increases in energy demand.

The funds will be distributed over a three-year period to six companies to accelerate the research necessary to deploy the first exascale supercomputers in the U.S. by 2021.

Advanced Micro Devices, Cray Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Intel Corp. and NVIDIA Corp. are being funded under the awards. Those companies will kick in additional funding that amounts to at least 40 percent of their total project cost, bringing the total investment to at least $430 million, DOE said.

Ultimately, the machines developed under the program will be purchased by DOE's national labs, according to Messina. The existing Titan system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory currently ranks third fastest in the world, behind two systems in China.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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