Exascale Advocates Stand on Nuclear Stockpiles

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 23, 2013

When it comes to investment in scientific research, the U.S. government tends to have an open ear for new ideas. However, in this time of tight budgets and heightened national security, federal coffers tend to have looser locks when there is a threat situation—whether that is global competitiveness or the safety and security of the nation.

According to a group of leading voices in high performance computing who gathered before yesterday’s U.S. Subcommittee on Energy, all of these national commodities are at stake without sustained investment in exascale systems.

While exascale funding hearings are nothing new, yesterday’s appeal struck a different chord, harmonizing with the urgency of ensuring U.S. nuclear capabilities—a note that has been resonating in headlines lately.

Instead of pitching the “big science” projects that lack a direct call to action, the threat of enroaching dominance from China and others, internal security, continued economic viability, and even the ability to predict tornado paths (a top news item during yesterday’s hearings following a devastating F5 in Oklahoma) took center stage, pushing exascale into the light of a requirement versus another expensive scientific endeavor.

Dr. Roscoe Giles, Chairman of the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee; Dr. Rick Stevens, Associate Director for Computing, Environment and Life Sciences at Argonne; Dona Crawford, Associate Director for Computation at Lawrence Livermore; and Dr. Dan Reed, VP of Research and Economic Development at the University of Iowa, all weighed in on various, expected components of exascale’s future (architecture, power/cooling, memory, etc.) before ringing the urgency alarm.

The hearing’s purpose was to examine draft legislation as it relates to the Department of Energy’s goals to build an exascale system. While the scientific payload of exascale was an important topic, the real meat, particularly when the floor was opened for questions, was how exascale will fit into larger national security goals, including nuclear stockpile stewardship—a rather familiar subject in the context of historical HPC funding.

The government has a $465.59 million proposal for FY 2014 in their hands to fund the DOE’s Office of Science Advanced Scientific Computing Research program, which will help spearhead U.S exascale efforts. Additionally, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is requesting a tick over $400 million for its Advanced Simulation and Computing programs, which will help the U.S. maintain the safety and viability of its nuclear weapons stockpile without active underground or small on-ground tests.

If the Advanced Simulation and Computing Program rings a bell, it’s because it was an original part of the initial DOE Stockpile Stewardship and Management plan, which took the dirt and grit out of the physical testing process of nukes and plugged the possibilities into supercomputers and new instruments instead. Since even the youngest nuclear devices in the U.S. shed are 20 years old, a lot of testing needs to be done to see how they will react under the stresses of aging in terms of stability and viability should the unfortunate need arise.

From the beginning, this Stewardship and associated Simulation and Computing program pulled in funding—breathing new life into research endeavors at a number of national labs, most notably Sandia, Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos. It also kicked funds into the private technology sector by default. To avoid a tangent, take this redirect to an analysis of some of the program’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of the computational horsepower.

Using the arsenal of current tools, the NNSA continuously assesses each nuclear weapon to certify its reliability and to detect or anticipate any potential problems that may come about as a result of aging.  All weapon types in the U.S. nuclear stockpile require routine maintenance, periodic repair, replacement of limited life components, surveillance (a thorough examination of a weapon)—all tasks that Crawford and colleagues say require exaflop-capable resources.

In short, this convincing approach worked in the 1990s when modeling and simulation capabilities were increasing rapidly—but the question is whether or not even that call to action for exascale’s value will be enough to add the required $400 million-level of urgency. Combined, however, with the dramatic and timely issues of nuclear threats pointed at allies—not to mention our competitive stew has cooled on multiple industrial and economic fronts—this appeal might carry more weight than it would have even this time last year.

As Dona Crawford explained, it is now the use of exascale systems that represents the only way to truly understand how to make sure the U.S. nuclear stockpile is safe, secure and in top condition. The same argument that propelled a great deal of investment into tech companies back in the 1990s when the NNSA looked to simulations and supercomputing to carry the stewardship load.

“Computing is the integrating element of maintaining the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear weapons stockpile without returning to underground tests,” said Crawford. “By integrating element, I mean that right now we have old test data, above-ground small test data, a lot of theory and some new models,” but that these cannot be used effectively unless scientists have access to far higher-fidelity simulations.

Even without using exascale to ensure nuclear stockpile safety and security, the side effect of lagging investment is a dwindling of our competitive prowess.

When asked why the U.S. doesn’t look to more international collaboration to reach its exascale ambitions, Dr. Stevens said that this makes sense on the software level, especially since so many large-scale systems use the same open source packages that are then pushed out to the community. However, he argued that it would not be suitable for us to share resources on the hardware front, pointing to what might happen if we were to trust our secure operations to run on hardware built in China.

The competitive threat wasn’t difficult for the speakers to tease apart for the committee—they pointed to investments in China and Japan toward exascale, making it clear that these were not insignificant funding efforts.  

Dan Reed made the argument that we are facing an uncertain future in HPC as other nations are making critical investments in supercomputing, noting, “Global leadership isn’t a birthright.” Even if the nuclear stockpile can make do with its current level of petascale capabilities, winning a silver, bronze—or even no medal in the exascale race itself presents a bevy of potential problems.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combined peak computing capacity, the new systems will extend the a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

ASC18: Tough Applications & Tough Luck

May 17, 2018

The applications at the ASC18 Student Cluster Competition were tough. Tougher than the $3.99 steak special at your local greasy spoon restaurant. The apps are so tough that even Chuck Norris backs away from them slowly. Read more…

By Dan Olds

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and the technology challenges ahead. These discussions happened in Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

PRACE 2017 Annual Report: Exascale Aspirations; Industry Collaboration; HPC Training

May 15, 2018

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) today released its annual report showcasing 2017 activities and providing a glimpse into thinking about Read more…

By John Russell

US Forms AI Brain Trust

May 11, 2018

Amid calls for a U.S. strategy for promoting AI development, the Trump administration is forming a senior-level panel to help coordinate government and industry research efforts. The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was announced Thursday (May 10) during a White House summit organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Read more…

By George Leopold

Emerging Advanced Scale Tech Trends Focus of Annual Tabor Conference

May 9, 2018

At Tabor Communications' annual Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) held this week in Austin, the focus was on enterprise adoption of HPC-class technologies and high performance data analytics (HPDA). It’s a confab that brings together end users (CIOs, IT planners, department heads) and vendors and encourages... Read more…

By the Editorial Team

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This