Note: This story was last updated at 12 p.m.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced a new supercomputing program on Monday that could be worth up to $1.8 billion and deploy two systems, with one at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, that would be 50 to 100 times more powerful than today’s computers.
The new systems are called exascale computers. DOE said the new supercomputers will solidify United States leadership in exascale computing.
The initiative was announced by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Perry announced a request for proposals, or RFP, for the development of at least two new exascale supercomputers to be deployed at DOE national laboratories sometime around 2021-2023.
“The new supercomputers funded through this RFP will be follow-on systems to the first U.S. exascale system authorized by Secretary Perry this past June, named Aurora, which is currently under development at Argonne National Laboratory and scheduled to come online in 2021,” a press release said. The RFP announced Monday envisions the possibility of upgrades to Aurora or even a follow-on system in 2022-2023, “depending on an assessment of needs and opportunities at that time.”
Argonne National Laboratory is about 25 miles southwest of Chicago.
The RFP announced Monday calls for an exascale system to be deployed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and for another to be located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.
“These new systems represent the next generation in supercomputing and will be critical tools both for our nation’s scientists and for U.S. industry,” Perry said. “They will help ensure America’s continued leadership in the vital area of high-performance computing, which is an essential element of our national security, prosperity, and competitiveness as a nation.”
The press release said the systems selected from the RFP will “build out U.S. exascale capabilities and help sustain the global leadership position that the United States has long enjoyed in the field of high performance computing for science and industry, a position that is under challenge in an increasingly competitive international environment.”
The new systems will provide 50 to 100 times greater performance than the current fastest U.S. supercomputer. They will enable breakthroughs in both science and industry through modeling and simulation, high-performance data analysis, and artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, the press release said. Potential examples include:
- Identifying next-generation materials
- Deciphering high-energy physics data
- Combating cancer
- Accelerating industrial product design and reducing cost-to-market
- Evaluating options for nuclear security
The RFP is the product of a collaboration among the three laboratories known as CORAL—the Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Livermore. It provides an opportunity for U.S. industry to develop at least two new unique system designs, each with a possible cost range of $400-$600 million, with a possibility of a third system with a similar or wholly different design from each of the previous two, the press release said. Future amounts are subject to congressional appropriations.
The RFP is being managed for CORAL by UT-Battelle LLC, which operates Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy.
ORNL is one of 10 DOE Office of Science laboratories, and it is the largest science and energy laboratory. The lab conducts basic and applied research, and it supports national missions in scientific discovery, clean energy, and security in four major areas of science and technology: neutrons, computing, materials, and nuclear.
Lawrence Livermore is an NNSA design laboratory that is responsible for the safety and reliability of the nuclear explosives package in nuclear weapons. About 45 miles east of San Francisco, the lab supports surveillance, assessment, and refurbishment of the nuclear weapons stockpile, and it also has unique high-energy-density physics capabilities and scientific computing assets. The NNSA is a DOE agency.
“Today’s announcement by Secretary Perry is great news for NNSA and our nuclear security missions,” NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty said. “Exascale computer systems will be 50 to 100 times more powerful than today’s machines, promising a profound impact on research efforts to enhance our national security. The new system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will be an invaluable tool to ensure the continued safety, security, and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. NNSA is excited to be part of this initiative and I look forward to seeing this technology develop.”
ORNL currently has the most powerful supercomputer in the United States, according to TOP500, which releases a list in June and November each year. Known as Titan, the ORNL supercomputer is currently the fifth most powerful system in the world, and the 17.59-petaflop machine is used for research in areas such as materials science, nuclear energy, combustion, and climate science.
But a new supercomputer that is expected to be about 10 times more powerful than Titan could be commissioned at ORNL this summer. That 200-petalop system is called Summit. It’s expected to be the fastest supercomputer in the world, with twice the power of the top Chinese system, a 93-petaflop system known as Sunway TaihuLight.
A petaflop is one quadrillion calculations per second. That’s 1,000 trillion calculations per second.
During a budget hearing in March, U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, said the new exascale system at ORNL, the one that follows Summit, could be called Frontier.
Summit could change the race for supercomputing supremacy between the United States and China, Fleischmann said. It’s a critical next step on the U.S. path to exascale computing, the congressman said. He said the United States and China are in a race for supercomputing supremacy, and the race is critical to advances in science and technology that will drive economic growth.
Citing a February 9 edition of Science magazine, Fleischmann said the U.S. dominated supercomputer rankings for decades but is now far behind. The combined power of the top two machines in China easily outpaces all 21 supercomputers operated by the U.S. Department of Energy, the country’s top funder of supercomputers, the congressman said.
China or Japan are expected to deploy their own exascale systems at about the same time, Fleischmann said, so the United States needs to deploy its exascale system by 2021 to beat those two countries or remain competitive.
During the March budget hearing, Perry told Congress that DOE’s budget request for fiscal year 2019, which starts October 1, includes $636 million for exascale computing, with $473 million in funding for the DOE Office of Science and $163 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration. That’s a proposed increase of $376 million above the spending level that was enacted in fiscal year 2017.
The budget request would fund the “research, development, and design at the Argonne National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory with expected deployment of an exascale‐capable computing system in 2021 with a second system with a different architecture in 2022,” DOE said in a budget brief posted online. “This Science/NNSA partnership will bolster America’s national security by supporting the nuclear stockpile while supporting the next generation of science breakthroughs not possible with today’s fastest computing systems.”
Answering questions about the fiscal year 2019 budget request, Perry told the House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee that, this past June, he had announced $258 million in funding over three years for six leading U.S. technology companies. Those awards will develop and accelerate critical computing hardware, Perry said, and help put the United States back in its “rightful place.” It’s important to national security, and it’s not just a DOE initiative, he said.
Argonne will have the first exascale computer, followed closely by ORNL, Perry said then.
“This should put us back in either the first or second slot,” he said.
Perry said exascale computing will be followed by quantum computing, and ORNL will play a very important role in that.
The DOE budget request for fiscal year 2019 also includes $105 million for quantum computing.
In January, TOP500 reported that China is planning to launch a “pre-exascale supercomputer” this year that could outperform Summit, possibly spoiling U.S. plans to retake the TOP500 crown.
Funding for the exascale RFP announced Monday is being provided jointly by the DOE Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration. The Office of Science and NNSA are also partners in the Department’s Exascale Computing Project, which is responsible for research and development efforts to accelerate application development, software technology, and hardware and integration for exascale systems.
The full RFP can be found here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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