In April 2018, the US Department of Energy announced plans to purchase three exascale supercomputers for up to $1.8 billion. Many announcements were made over the next four years, many deadlines were missed, and a pandemic threw the world into disarray. Finally, HPE and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have announced that the first of those three systems, the HPE-built, AMD-powered Frontier supercomputer, is operational, delivering 1.102 Linpack exaflops of computing power. This is the first machine capable of demonstrating “exascale” performance, a highly sought-after computing benchmark equivalent to one quintillion operations per second. That mind-boggling figure equates to approximately a billion, billion calculations, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second.
ORNL claims that the demonstrations establish Frontier as the world’s first true exascale machine. Frontier came in first place in this year’s Top500 rankings of the world’s most powerful systems. That’s big news for ORNL, but it could be even bigger news for the US science and defense apparatus, which has been investing for years to beat rival countries in developing similar high-performance computers.
Frontier’s researchers believe that its massive new computing power could solve complex scientific problems and lead to breakthroughs in climate modeling, drug discovery, and other critical areas. Despite the fact that it is still in testing, ORNL is expected to be used by the US Air Force and the US Department of Energy in 2023. The DOE previously pledged $1.8 billion to build three exascale-capable machines.
Frontier will enable substantial breakthroughs in artificial intelligence in addition to modeling and simulating complicated scientific studies across biological, physical, and chemical sciences. Frontier users will be able to create AI models that are nearly five times faster and eight times larger thanks to the exascale performance. As a result, they’ll be able to train more data, which will improve predictability and reduce time-to-discovery.
While Frontier has been dubbed the world’s first exascale supercomputer, there are rumors of two Chinese installations that have also shattered the barrier. However, due to political concerns between the US and China, those systems have not been presented to the Top500 committee.