Note: This story was last updated at 6 p.m. June 9.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory again has the world’s most powerful supercomputer. It’s also the world’s smartest supercomputer, a machine that can learn—and run software that will write software.
The supercomputer, called Summit, is capable of 200 petaflops, or 200,000 trillion calculations per second. During a Friday afternoon ceremony, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Summit can save 30 years worth of desktop data in one hour. It is millions times faster than a really good high-end desktop, said Ginni Rometty, IBM chair, president, and chief executive officer.
A water-cooled IBM system, Summit is presumed to have bumped China from the top spot, at least among open-science systems or supercomputers that aren’t classified. It has successfully run the world’s first exascale scientific calculation.
“We know we’re in competition, and it matters who gets there first,” Perry told several hundred people at the Friday afternoon ceremony at ORNL, a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory. “We reached a pinnacle today.”
Researchers at ORNL could find the cure for Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, Perry said. Winning the global supercomputing race could have benefits for all of humanity, said Jensen Huang, NVIDIA founder, president, and CEO.
Summit will be used for research in energy, biology, genetics, human health, astrophysics, advanced materials, and artificial intelligence, among other areas. It will be eight times more powerful than ORNL’s previous top-ranked system, Titan. That’s a five-year-old Cray machine that has fallen to fifth place on the list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
As big as two tennis courts, Summit has 4,608 nodes. Each has two IBM Power9 central processing units and six NVIDIA Tesla V100 graphics processing units. That’s more than 9,000 conventional processors and nearly 28,000 graphics processors, or about 37,000 total. Summit has interconnects between processors that are made by a company called Mellanox. Data is transferred at unprecedented speed, Rometty said.
“Summit is a milestone in a global race,” Huang said.
Here’s one way to understand the supercomputer’s power: If every person on Earth completed one calculation per second, it would take 305 days to do what Summit can do in one second, according to ORNL.
ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said Summit’s central processing units, or CPUs, can do very detailed high-precision 64-bit calculations, while the graphics processing units, or GPUs, can do faster mixed-precision 16-bit calculations.
Researchers broke the exascale barrier while analyzing genomic data on Summit. A team of scientists led by ORNL’s Dan Jacobson and Wayne Joubert achieved a peak of 1.88 exaops, or close to two billion billion calculations per second. That’s faster than any previously reported science application.
“From its genesis 75 years ago, ORNL has a history and culture of solving large and difficult problems with national scope and impact,” Zacharia said. “ORNL scientists were among the scientific teams that achieved the first gigaflops calculations in 1988, the first teraflops calculations in 1998, the first petaflops calculations in 2008, and now the first exaops calculations in 2018. The pioneering research of ORNL scientists and engineers has played a pivotal role in our nation’s history and continues to shape our future. We look forward to welcoming the scientific user community to Summit as we pursue another 75 years of leadership in science.”
Summit, an IBM AC922 system, is connected by 185 miles of fiber optic cables. That’s equal to the distance from Knoxville to Nashville. Summit’s file system can store 250 petabytes of data, or the equivalent of 74 years of high-definition video. Its cabinets, file system, and overhead infrastructure weigh more than 340 tons, or more than a large commercial aircraft. And more than 4,000 gallons of water pump through Summit’s cooling system every minute, carrying away about 13 megawatts of heat. The machine has about 500 gigabytes of memory per node.
Summit is reported to have cost $200 million to build, and Rometty told CNBC television that it took four years. It’s expected to speed up research.
“An experiment that might have taken 27 years to 13,000 years, they can do in a day,” Rometty said. “You will have new compounds, new cures for cancer.”
The new machine is a step on the path to exascale computing, which will feature systems with more than 1,000 petaflops—capable of a billion billion calculations per second. Beyond exascale computing is quantum computing. ORNL is expected to play an important role in both, including with an exascale system that could be called Frontier, possibly around 2021 or later.
“The journey never stops,” Zacharia said.
It’s not clear how long Summit will remain the most powerful supercomputer in the world. A new version of the TOP500 list, a semiannual ranking, is expected this month, but results have not been released yet. 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, although that doesn’t appear to have happened yet.
During a budget hearing in March, U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, said the race between the United States and China for supercomputing supremacy is critical to advances in science and technology that will drive economic growth.
China or Japan are expected to deploy their own exascale systems at about the same time as the United States, Fleischmann said, so the nation needs to deploy its exascale system by 2021 to beat those two countries or remain competitive.
Titan, a 27-petaflop machine that also has CPUs and GPUs, was once named the most powerful supercomputer in the world, more than five years ago in November 2012. Titan is used for research in areas such as materials science, nuclear energy, combustion, and climate science. It is as big as a basketball court, and it will continue to be used through most of next year. Titan—which has more than 18,000 nodes, compared to 4,600 for Summit— is 10 times faster than Jaguar, the computer system it replaced. Jaguar, which was capable of about 2.5 petaflops, had ranked as the world’s fastest computer in November 2009 and June 2010.
China bumped Titan from the number one spot in June 2013, according to the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. China has stayed at the top ever since and has had the top two supercomputers since June 2016. China passed the United States in the total number of top ranked supercomputers in November. The top two Chinese machines are Sunway TaihuLight, a 93-petaflop supercomputer, and Tianhe-2 (Milky Way-2), a 33.86-petaflop system.
Summit has about double the power of Sunway TaihuLight.
In August, ORNL said Summit, located in a new data center next to Titan, will be 5-10 times faster than Titan, move data five to 10 times faster, store eight times more data, and perform many more calculations simultaneously than Titan.
Summit will be the world’s smartest supercomputer because of its enormous memory and data handling capabilities as well as its unique machine learning processor design, ORNL said. Summit has both brain and brawn, Rometty said.
Equipment delivery for Summit began in July and was completed in March, according to Jack C. Wells, science director for the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility at ORNL.
“All of the hardware is here, and we are working on shaking out the very new system software,” Wells said Friday. “We are preparing for the acceptance testing, which will begin later this summer. We have a variety of computational scientists and engineers from our user community on as early science users, helping us shake out the system. All this is part of our over-arching transition to operations plan.”
ORNL plans to accept Summit this summer.
The lab then plans to move on to a period that they are calling “early science.”
“During our early science period, the users who have been helping us shake out the machine will get the opportunity to run their first large, production-scale work on Summit and, we expect, produce their initial scientific breakthroughs,” Wells said. “This will extend from after acceptance until full user operations begins in January 2019. With full user operations, we have firm commitments to the U.S. Department of Energy and to the user community for the operational performance of our center. We will overlap the operations of Summit with Titan through September 2019, at which time the decommissioning of Titan is planned.”
Perry said Summit demonstrates American leadership in scientific innovation and technology development.
“It’s going to have a profound impact in energy research, scientific discovery, economic competitiveness, and national security,” Perry said. “I am truly excited by the potential of Summit, as it moves the nation one step closer to the goal of delivering an exascale supercomputing system by 2021. Summit will empower scientists to address a wide range of new challenges, accelerate discovery, spur innovation, and above all, benefit the American people.”
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said Summit will attract the best researchers in the world to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“Today’s announcement by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which comes on the 75th anniversary of the city of Oak Ridge, that it will again house the most powerful and smartest supercomputer in the world, Summit, is further proof that the area’s scientific brainpower, energy research, and technological capabilities are some of the best in the world,” Alexander said. “Imagine a computer about one trillion times faster than your home computer—used to help find cures and treatments for diseases, protect against cyberattacks, more accurately predict the weather, and help federal agencies eliminate waste and fraud.”
Alexander, who was cited as a powerful proponent of Oak Ridge by Perry, cited the role of consistent federal research funding in the evolution of supercomputing during the past 14 years.
“The Summit supercomputer is more than thirty thousand times (31,250) more powerful than the Phoenix supercomputer that was first deployed at ORNL in 2004,” Alexander said.
Fleischmann also received credit from Perry at ORNL on Friday.
“With today’s debut of Summit, the smartest and most powerful supercomputer in the world, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has again demonstrated the strength of American science,” Fleischmann said “Summit’s unprecedented power will enable scientists to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing our nation and the world today. When I reflect on Titan’s tremendous contributions to countless disciplines, I can only imagine the impact that Summit will have.”
See more coverage here:
- Move Over, China: U.S. Is Again Home to World’s Speediest Supercomputer—New York Times
- IBM, Nvidia Help U.S. Leapfrog China in Supercomputer Race—Bloomberg
- IBM CEO: World’s fastest, smartest supercomputer one of our greatest achievements—CNBC
- Summit Up and Running at Oak Ridge, Claims First Exascale Application—TOP500
- THE US AGAIN HAS WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL SUPERCOMPUTER—WIRED
See Summit by the Numbers information here.
Learn more about Summit here.
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