United States Once Again Has World's Most Powerful Supercomputer

At 200 petaflops, the Summit supercomputer can process 200,000 trillion calculations per second, doubling the performance of China's previous record holder.
Shelby Rogers

At 200 petaflops, the United States' newest supercomputer is no joke. The Department of Energy recently debuted Summit -- the world's latest and most powerful supercomputer.

Summit operates at 200 petaflops while at maximum capacity. For perspective, that's 200 quadrillion calculations each second. The latest numbers outperform China's Sunway TaihuLight's 93 petaflop capacity. Summit also outdoes the US's previous record holder Titan. 

United States Once Again Has World's Most Powerful Supercomputer
Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Both Titan and Summit come from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. 

“From its genesis 75 years ago, ORNL has a history and culture of solving large and difficult problems with national scope and impact,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said. “ORNL scientists were among the scientific teams that achieved the first gigaflops calculations in 1988, the first teraflops calculations in 1998, the first petaflops calculations in 2008 and now the first exaops calculations in 2018. The pioneering research of ORNL scientists and engineers has played a pivotal role in our nation’s history and continues to shape our future. We look forward to welcoming the scientific user community to Summit as we pursue another 75 years of leadership in science.”

ORNL's latest contributions pull some impressive numbers. Summit has 4,608 servers and takes up the space of two tennis courts. Summit is made up of more than 9,000 22-core IBM Power9 processors and over 27,000 NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs. 

That much hardware comes at a price. Summit requires the same amount of power that could be used to run 8,100 American homes. Cooling down that amount of heat output takes 4,000 gallons of water each minute.

Despite the energy pull, ORNL researchers and developers hope the supercomputer will be well worth the investment.

“Today’s launch of the Summit supercomputer demonstrates the strength of American leadership in scientific innovation and technology development. It is going to have a profound impact in energy research, scientific discovery, economic competitiveness, and national security,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “I am truly excited by the potential of Summit, as it moves the nation one step closer to the goal of delivering an exascale supercomputing system by 2021. Summit will empower scientists to address a wide range of new challenges, accelerate discovery, spur innovation and above all, benefit the American people.”

“Summit takes accelerated computing to the next level, with more computing power, more memory, an enormous high-performance file system and fast data paths to tie it all together. That means researchers will be able to get more accurate results faster,” said Jeff Nichols, ORNL associate laboratory director for computing and computational sciences. “Summit’s AI-optimized hardware also gives researchers an incredible platform for analyzing massive datasets and creating intelligent software to accelerate the pace of discovery.”

Summit, according to its creators, could be used to craft solutions for nearly every aspect of life. The ORNL team wants to use it for astrophysics research, materials engineering, and even systems biology. For example, there are already programs in place to equip Summit with data it needs to help medical researchers identify trends in cancer causes.

“Essentially, we are training computers to read documents and abstract information using large volumes of data,” ORNL researcher Gina Tourassi said. “Summit enables us to explore much more complex models in a time efficient way so we can identify the ones that are most effective.”