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What is Exascale Computing? -Technology Explained

Fast Facts--

  • Watch a video of an exascale-powered COVID simulation from NVIDIA.

  • Computers have been increasing steadily in performance since the 1940s.

  • The Colossus vacuum tube computer was the first electronic computer in the world. Built in Britain during the Second World War, Colossus ran at 500,000 FLOPS.

  • CDC 6600 in 1964 was the first supercomputer with 3 megaFLOPS.

  • Cray-2 in 1985 was the first supercomputer to reach over 1 gigaFLOP.

  • ASCI Red in 1996 was the first massively parallel computer reaching over a teraFLOP.

  • Roadrunner in 2008 first supercomputer to reach 1 petaFLOP.

What is Exascale Computing?

Exascale computing is a new level of supercomputing that is capable of at least one exaflop of floating-point calculations per second to support the expansive workloads of converged modelling, simulation, AI and analytics.

Exascale computing vs Quantum computing --

Exascale computing is a type of ultra-powerful supercomputing, with systems performing billions of computations per second utilising an infrastructure of CPUs and GPUs to process and analyse data. This type of compute is operated by digital systems in conjunction with the most powerful hardware in the world.

Quantum computing--

Quantum computing does not fall under conventional compute methods, as quantum systems utilise binary codes to be active in the same moment. This process is built on allowing super-positioning and entanglement of coding to occur simultaneously, effectively analysing and solving for problems, enabled by laws of quantum theory in physics.

Currently, exascale computing is capable of processing and solving problems, informing and delivering technological developments at a much higher rate than quantum computing.

However, quantum computing is currently on a trajectory to far surpass exascale computing capacity. Quantum computing also requires much less energy consumption to power similar workloads than exascale supercomputers.

How is computer speed measured?

One-way scientists measure computer performance speed is in floating-point operations per second (FLOPS). These operations are simple arithmetic, like addition or multiplication, involving a number containing a decimal, like 3.5. A person can typically solve an operation such as addition with a pencil and paper in one second—that’s 1 FLOPS. Computers can solve these operations much faster. They are so fast that scientists use prefixes to talk about speed.

A typical laptop is capable of a few teraFLOPS, or a trillion operations per second.

What are the benefits of Exascale computing?

The primary benefits of exascale computing come from the capacity to problem-solve at incredible levels of complexity.

Scientific discovery:

Changes occur constantly within the scientific technology sector. With developments, validations and studies contributing to the continual progress of scientific discovery, there is a pressing need for supercomputing.

Exascale computing has the necessary power to solve for the origin of chemical elements, control unstable chemicals and materials, validate laws of nature and probe particle physics.

The study and analysis of these topics have led to scientific discoveries that would be unattainable without the capacity of supercomputing.

Security: There is a great demand for supercomputing within the security sector. Exascale computing helps us withstand emerging physical threats and cyber threats to our national, energy and economic security – all while simultaneously promoting growth and efficiency in food production, sustainable urban planning, and natural disaster recovery planning.

National security benefits from exascale computing’s capacity for intelligent responses to threats and analysis of hostile environments. This level of computing occurs at nearly incomprehensible speeds, countering innumerable risks and threats to the safety of the nation.

Energy security is attainable through exascale computing, as it not only benefits the design of low-emission technologies but also promotes the analysis of stress-resistant crops. Further ensuring sustainable food and energy resources is a critical component of the nation’s security efforts.

Economic security is enhanced by exascale computing on several fronts. It enables accurate risk assessment of natural disasters, such as predicting seismic activity and forming proactive solutions. Urban planning also benefits from supercomputing, as it contributes to plans for efficient power and electric grid utilization and construction.

Healthcare: The medical industry benefits greatly from exascale computing, specifically in the field of cancer research. With predictive models for drug reactions and intelligent automation capacity, critical processes within cancer research have been revolutionized and accelerated.

DOE Contributions to Exascale Computing--

The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research program has worked for decades with U.S. technology companies to build supercomputers that break barriers in scientific discovery.

Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, and Argonne National Laboratories house DOE Office of Science user facilities for high-performance computing. These facilities give scientists computer access based on the potential benefits of their research.

DOE’s Exascale Computing Initiative, co-led by the Office of Science and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), began in 2016 with the goal of speeding the development of an exascale computing ecosystem. One of the components of the initiative is the seven-year Exascale Computing Project

Exascale computers are digital computers, like today’s laptops and phones, but with much more powerful hardware. On the other hand, quantum computers are a totally innovative approach to building a computer.

Quantum computers won’t replace today’s computers. But using the principles of quantum physics, quantum computing will be able to solve very complex statistical problems that are difficult for today’s computers. Quantum computing has so much potential and momentum.

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