First-ever 'exascale' computer marks new era of supercomputing

The Frontier supercomputer achieved 'exascale' speeds (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)
The Frontier supercomputer achieved 'exascale' speeds. (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

An American supercomputer has earned top ranking as the world’s fastest - and its performance might usher in a new era of supercomputing.

The Frontier supercomputer, located at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the first computer to achieve true ‘exascale’ computing.

‘Exascale’ computing is the threshold of a quintillion calculations per second — 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 per second — known as ‘exaflops’.

Exascale computing will be used by scientists and to make more accurate predictions such as weather forecasting and climate modelling.

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Many researchers hope that exascale computers will be able to simulate the operation of the human brain - something which was beyond previous generations of supercomputer.

The Frontier supercomputer earned the top ranking today as the world’s fastest on the 59th TOP500 list, with 1.1 exaflops of performance.

Frontier features a theoretical peak performance of 2 exaflops, or two quintillion calculations per second.

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Thomas Zacharia, director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said: “Frontier is ushering in a new era of exascale computing to solve the world’s biggest scientific challenges.

“This milestone offers just a preview of Frontier’s unmatched capability as a tool for scientific discovery.

“It is the result of more than a decade of collaboration among the national laboratories, academia and private industry, including DOE’s Exascale Computing Project, which is deploying the applications, software technologies, hardware and integration necessary to ensure impact at the exascale.”

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The machine is an HPE Cray EX system and achieved its top speed using 8,730,112 processing cores.

The US array of supercomputers do scientific work for healthcare, climate and other researchers, as well as performing virtual testing of the country’s nuclear weapons.

Key technologies pioneered in the systems often filter down to commercial data centers in subsequent years, giving an advantage to chip companies which win the contract work.

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