Exascale Computing Grows Under the Department of Energy

Published: June 28, 2017

Big DataDOEInformation TechnologySupercomputing

The Department of Energy continues building its advanced computing capabilities among the pressures of global competition and national security priorities.

While computing has long been a part of the Department of Energy’s role in the development of fast computers, pressures of global competition and national security continue to drive the Depagency in exceling within its computing environment.

The Exascale Computing Project (ECP) at the department, a collaborative effort between the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), aims to develop an exascale system with related software and hardware technologies and architecture in the 2020s time frame.  The goal of the system through modeling and simulation, will be to analyze more data in less time to produce solutions in various mission-critical, scientific and security challenges. Specifically, its purpose as stated by the agency is as follows:

  • Deliver the next era of high-end computational systems
  • Build-in cyber defenses including information protection
  • Provide technologies to ensure supply-chain integrity
  • Attack previously unsolvable problems critical to the nation’s national security, science and innovation engine
  • Deliver tremendous improvements in electronic component energy efficiency, reducing operations costs of HPC centers and carbon footprints
  • Stimulate US competitiveness and intellectual property through aggressive technology development and adoption

The project’s website describes three main focus areas within ECP: application development focused on “delivering science-based applications able to exploit exascale for high-confidence insights and answers to critical problems;” software technology that will enable application developers to write the applications for diverse exascale architectures; and hardware technology that will create the high performance ecosystem and “enhance system and application performance for traditional science and engineering applications, as well as data-intensive and data-analytics applications.”

Increased investment in ECP is pushing the agency to have an exascale system by 2021 and a second system with a different architecture by 2022. The FY 2018 budget includes $508 million to assist in this accelerated development. According to Secretary Rick Perry in a statement to Congress, this “unprecedented investment, which is $249 million—or 96 percent—above the FY 2017 level, reflects the Department’s intention to deliver an exascale machine... the Science/NNSA partnership will focus on hardware and software technologies needed to produce an exascale system, and the critical DOE applications needed to use such a platform.”

Actions in the drive for the new system appeared in early June 2017 when the agency awarded $258 million in research and development grants under the PathForward procurement. The funding is slated over a three year contract period with the awardees funding at least 40% of their total project cost – bumping the total R&D cost to over $400 million. Recipients include: Advanced Micro Devices, Cray, Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, International Business Machines, Intel Corp. and NVIDIA Corp. The grants will be dedicated to the research and development of the three focus areas for ECP to deliver a system “at least 50 times faster than the nation’s most powerful computers today,” according to the agency’s award statement