Intel and Cray are building the world's first exascale supercomputer

Alfred Osborne
March 19, 2019

Intel has joined hands with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to launch its first supercomputer with an exascale performance in the U.S. There are lots of zeros attached to this deal: 1 quintillion calculations is equivalent to a billion billion calculations; the overall contract will cost the DOE $500 million; and Seattle's Cray is expected to rake in more than $100 million for its part in the development of Aurora. China said it has already put into operation a prototype exascale machine, and it expects the final version to be ready by the second half of 2020 or the first half of 2021.

The device is being built mostly by Intel, the world's biggest chipmaker, and Cray, which specialises in the ultra-fast machines, at the sprawling Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. Several countries are in a race to claim they have the fastest computer in the world. Last year, the US took back the title from China, thanks to the computing power of the IBM-built Summit Supercomputer, which can handle 200 quadrillion calculations per second. Backers hope the new machines will let researchers create significantly more accurate simulations of phenomena such as drug responses, climate changes, the inner workings of combustion engines and solar panels. "Exascale R&D has been going on for over a decade", said Rick Stevens, associate director at the Argonne National Laboratory in IL, where the supercomputer will be built. The Silicon Valley giant's popular processors - the calculating engine for almost all personal computers and server systems - power most such machines.

"Achieving exascale is imperative, not only to better the scientific community, but also to better the lives of everyday Americans", said Perry.

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The version of Aurora announced in 2015 was based on an Intel accelerator chip that the company later discontinued. Cray will be providing its Shasta system architecture, which can support multiple CPUs, GPUs, and high-performance interconnects such as Slingshot. Intel and Cray are also supplying new software to make advanced supercomputers easier to program.

"We have to take risks in order to advance the state of the art", he said.

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