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US develops supercomputer to beat China's Tianhe-2

Posted: 17 Apr 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:supercomputer  Tianhe-2  Xeon  CORAL  Aurora 

The United States plans to outclass China's supercomputer, and it is now looking for a few good semiconductor architectures to help fulfil its ambition.

The fastest supercomputer in the world is currently the Chinese Tianhe-2 running at a peak of 55petaflops on Intel Xeon and Xeon Phi processors. The Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne and Lawrence Livermore (CORAL) project financed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) aims to one-up the Chinese with up to 200petaflops systems by 2018. The three systems, named Summit, Aurora and Sierra, respectively, have also pitted IBM/Nvidia and their graphics processing units (GPUs) against Intel/Cray's massively parallel x86 (Xeon Phi) architecture.

"Over 100 experts were involved in picking two different architectures as mandated by the CORAL request for proposals," the director of science for the National Centre for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Labs, Jack Wells, told EE Times. "Two locations, Oak Ridge and Livermore, were chosen to go with IBM, and Argonne was chosen to use Intel processors."


The Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Labs will use over 3,400 computing nodes each with multiple POWER9 and NVIDA Volta graphics processing units (GPUs) for over 135petaflops. (Source: Oak Ridge National Labs)

DOE's purpose if forcing the National Labs to choose two different architectures is mysterious, but was stated to be "in order to meet DOE's mission needs." Other than the general rule of not single-sourcing anything important, the purpose was perhaps just what they said—to meet the very different needs of the three labs—ranging from designing new semiconductor materials to simulating the explosive power of U.S. atomic bombs.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), for instance, today announced its intensions for Summit with 13 Centre for Accelerated Application Readiness (CAAR) projects chosen to run on its current Titan AMD/Nvidia-based supercomputer as a warm up for Summit's IBM/Nvidia architecture, which will run five to 10 times faster than Titan, about from 135 to 270petaflops for Summit.

"We got 100s of proposals for how to make best use of the Summit's CPU/GPU architecture," Wells told us. "But we narrowed it down to 13 which we hope to have ready to run on Summit when its installation is complete in 2018."

Of the 13 projects, only one directly involves searching for new semiconductor materials, specifically superconductors, by Research Scientist Paul Kent at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The others involve climate simulation by Research Scientist David Bader at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, relativistic chemistry by Professor Lucas Visscher at the Free University of Amsterdam, astrophysics by Research Scientist Bronson Messer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, plasma physics by Professor Zhihong Lin at the University of California-Irvine, cosmology by Research Scientist Salman Habib at Argonne National Laboratory, electron-structure by Professor Poul Jørgenson at Aarhus University, biophysics by Professor Klaus Schulten at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, nuclear physics applications by Research Scientist Gaute Hagen at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, computational chemistry by Research Scientist Karol Kowalski at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, combustion engineering by Research Scientist Joseph Oefelein at Sandia National Laboratories, seismology by Professor Jeroen Tromp at Princeton University and plasma physics by Professor Choong-Seock Chang, at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. All of which will be prepared on AMD/Nvidia's Titan for IBM/Nvidia's Summit, which will be based on the "data centric" principles of the OpenPOWER Foundation's approach to handling "big data."

- R. Colin Johnson
  EE Times

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