U.S. Is About to Complete Building the Fastest Supercomputer in the World

The United States could overtake China in the battle for the best supercomputer. The U.S.'s Summit, created at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is scheduled for completion in 2018 and with an impressive 200 petaflops.

U.S. Is About to Complete Building the Fastest Supercomputer in the World
A first glimpse of the Summit supercomputer which engineers hope to have ready for use by early 2019. Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee is primed to house the United States' next great enterprise. The Summit supercomputer is expected to surpass ORNL's nationally-leading supercomputer Titan. 

The Summit supercomputer program comes as part of a larger initiative for the U.S. to regain dominance in the global computing sector. It would also take ORNL one step closer to reaching a national goal in creating the world's first exascale computer by 2021. That computer would theoretically process one exaflop (billion billion operations) each second -- over 50 times faster than the current fastest supercomputer. 

Buddy Bland works as the Oak Ridge's Leadership Computing Facility project director. Bland noted that Summit's parts would be at the laboratory no later than February and that the machine would be up and running by summer 2018. 

James Hack of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility said on the ORNL website that Summit takes its start from Titan but wants to greatly expand on Titan's successes. 

"Summit, like Titan, will open a door to new ways to simulate and explore complex systems in the natural world," Hack said. "Our scientific community will see decreased time to solution, along with the ability to increase the complexity of their computational models, improving the simulation fidelity of a wide variety of important phenomena that are beyond the range of conventional experimental investigations."

Summit will be similar to Titan in that they both feature dual processing units -- central processing units and graphical processing units. However, Summit's innovation lies heavily with the latter. Titan has one GPU to each CPU inside the supercomputer. Summit will boast six GPUs to ever three CPUs. 

"Many of these projects we are doing today on Titan, but you can't get all of the science you would like to be able to do out of them," Bland said. "We find all kinds of new science by using much higher resolutions."

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Researchers also expect Summit to pack more power on a smaller scale. Summit will process at an expected five times faster rate than Titan on 4,600 nodes compared to Titan's 18,688 nodes. 

Early expectations for the project are just as large as the Summit's estimated computing power. Bland said the lab would test the machine's capabilities by trying to synthesize complex questions and problems. 

"We will try to run some big problems," Bland said. "For instance, we'll be looking into why supernovae explode. When stars explode, they create all of the elements we find in the universe, everything that's part of you and me and part of this planet gets created."

To learn more about the Summit project, check out the video below: 

Other Global Leaders

Currently, the most powerful supercomputers in the world can be found in China. In first place is the Sunway TaihuLight. TaihuLight can process 93 petaflops of computing power with a theoretical peak of 125 petaflops. 

With a predicted 200 petaflops, the ORNL Summit could eventually dethrone TaihuLight. However, the U.S. isn't the only country coming for the number one spot. Japan is also working on their version of a supercomputer. Its target completion date is set for April 2018 and it would boast a 130 petaflop speed. Japan could overtake the Summit project simply by finishing earlier, but if Summit meets expectations, the success for Japan would be shortlived. 

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