Race to the top in supercomputing

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The Supercomputer SUMMIT. Photo: The U.S. Department of Energy

On June 8, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) unveiled a new supercomputer, Summit, with a peak performance of 200,000 trillion calculations (200 petaflops) per second. Summit will topple China’s 93-petaflop TaihuLight that has been at the top spot since 2016. Summit’s power will be put to work in research in areas including energy, advanced materials and artificial intelligence.

Summit is eight times more powerful than Titan, the current most powerful computer in the U.S., which is also housed at the ORNL. The U.S. will build an exascale supercomputing system—capable of at least one billion billion calculations per second—by 2021, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said while launching Summit. The Chinese Academy of Sciences, too, has launched a programme to build an exascale supercomputer by 2020.

Summit has been built by IBM (IBM AC922 system) and consists of 4,608 servers, each containing two 22-core IBM Power 9 processors, and six NVIDIA Tesla V100 graphic processing unit accelerators with Mellanox interconnections. The combination of hardware and software is said to be an evolution of the architecture successfully deployed in Titan in 2012.

Summit was one of the projects to receive the $325 millon funding announced in 2014 by the then Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz. Summit will be open to select projects this year as the ORNL and IBM work through the acceptance process for the machine. In 2019, the bulk of the access to Summit will go to research teams selected through the DOE’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) programme.

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