IBM To Help US Govt Supercomputer Push With Exascale Computing

  • The US government seeks to develop exascale supercomputing by 2025.
  • President Obama established the National Strategic Computing Initiative to recover US supercomputing leadership, threatened by China.
  • Exascale supercomputing will have very important scientific, military, and commercial applications.
  • IBM started a research project to advance toward exascale supercomputing based on its POWER technology, backed by the Open POWER Foundation.

The US government intends to create a supercomputer capable of performing a quintillion operations a second, or one exaflop, 30 times faster than today’s fastest computer, by 2025. President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) to ensure the US continues leading in the supercomputing field over the coming decades. The NSCI is designed to advance ultra-high performance computing  - exascale computing - for aerospace, climate science, fundamental physics and cosmology, genomics, and medicine, and break through the obstacles that stand in the way of building much faster machines.

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Speaking to The Platform, Horst Simon, deputy director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, noted that now China has the fastest machine in the world and other countries are coming up as well, so the time is right for the US government to actively support the nation's supercomputing industry.

"By strategically investing now, we can prepare for increasing computing demands and emerging technological challenges, building the foundation for sustained U.S. leadership for decades to come, while also expanding the role of high-performance computing to address the pressing challenges faced across many sectors," noted the white house office of Science and Technology Policy.

IBM (NYSE:IBM) is one of the companies that are well positioned to first receive federal funding to develop world-class exascale computing infrastructure, and then exploit the developments in the marketplace.

Last week IBM announced a collaboration with GENCI, the high performance computing agency in France, aimed at advancing toward exascale computing by leveraging the performance of the POWER technology developed by IBM and other members of the OpenPOWER Foundation. The collaboration, planned to run for at least 18 months, focuses on adapting complex scientific applications to new systems, under development, expected to achieve more than 100 petaflops (one tenth of an exaflop), a solid step forward on the path to exascale.

Last November IBM opened the first European POWER Acceleration and Design Center (PADC) at the Jülich Supercomputer Center in Germany, and in July the company announced its second PADC in Montpellier, France, where the work done in collaboration with GENCI will be based.

"This is going to be a connect-the-dots exercise over the next year or so as you see us announce more centers. It’s a further indication, contrary to popular belief, that when we divested ourselves of the Intel-based business IBM never left the HPC [High Performance Computing] space; we just kind of restructured a little bit,” said Dave Turek, vice president of high performance computing at IBM in an interview with the supercomputing industry newsletter HPCwire.

Supported by more than 140 OpenPOWER Foundation members and thousands of developers worldwide, the OpenPOWER ecosystem includes a wide variety of computing solutions that use IBM's licensable and open POWER processor technology. As part of the collaboration, GENCI will closely examine the impact and requirements of POWER's open architecture on scientific applications, intending to foster a deeper understanding of application requirements as the computing industry advances towards exascale computing with an increased interest in accelerator technologies.

A recent Popular Science article notes that exascale computing will have important applications in defense. Besides solving complex problems in climate science, aerospace design, biomedicine, and particle physics, future supercomputers will be used to develop new kinds of stealth technology, run complex ballistics models, and simulate nuclear weapon detonations.

According to Tim Stevens, a teaching fellow in the war studies department at King’s College London, superior supercomputing could make a huge difference for national security. Stevens underlined key applications of big data analysis to counter terrorism, and key applications of real-time network data processing to cyber-security. "[T]hose are the realms in which supercomputing has a real future,” he said.

The envisaged scientific and defense applications of exascale supercomputing can be adapted to a wide range of commercial applications, including personalized medicine and genomics, drug discovery, optimized car and aircraft design, cloud computing, Big Data, social network analysis, and personalized marketing. Therefore, it seems that IBM's strategy for exascale supercomputing developments, with initial government funding, is likely to pay off handsomely and drive the IBM stock higher in the long term.

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