US looking for vendors for two exascale supercomputers

Eniac-USarmyPhoto700The US Government is ready to seek vendors to build two exascale supercomputers — costing roughly $200 million to $300 million each — by 2019.

The two systems will be built at the same time and will be ready for use by 2023, although it’s possible one of the systems could be ready a year earlier.

However the boffins and the vendors do not know if   Donald “Prince of Orange” Trump’s administration will change directions. Indications are so far that science and supercomputers might be something that his administration are not keen on as they might be used to look at climate change.

At the annual supercomputing conference SC16 last week in Salt Lake City, a panel of government scientists outlined the exascale strategy developed by President Barack Obama’s administration. When the session was opened to questions, the first two were about Trump. One attendee quipped that “pointed-head geeks are not going to be well appreciated”.

Another person in the audience, John Sopka, a high-performance computing software consultant, asked how the science community will defend itself from claims that “you are taking the money from the people and spending it on dreams,” referring to exascale systems.

Paul Messina, a computer scientist and distinguished fellow at Argonne National Labs who heads the Exascale Computing Project said that the goal of the exascale computing project is to help economic competitiveness and economic security.

Politically, there ought to be a lot in HPC’s favor. A broad array of industries rely on government supercomputers to conduct scientific research, improve products, attack disease, create new energy systems and understand climate, among many other fields. Defense and intelligence agencies also rely on large systems.

There is also likely to be a technology race between the US and China. The Chinese want to have an exascale computer ready by 2020 which will challenge America’s tech dominance.

The US plans to award the exascale contracts to vendors with two different architectures. This is not a new approach and is intended to help keep competition at the highest end of the market. Recent supercomputer procurements include systems built on the IBM Power architecture, Nvidia’s Volta GPU and Cray-built systems using Intel chips.

The timing of these exascale systems — ready for 2023 — is also designed to take advantage of the upgrade cycles at the national labs. The large systems that will be installed in the next several years will be ready for replacement by the time exascale systems arrive.