US Exascale Computing Update with Paul Messina

By Tiffany Trader

December 8, 2016

Around the world, efforts are ramping up to cross the next major computing threshold with machines that are 50-100x more performant than today’s fastest number crunchers. Earlier this year, the United States announced its goal to stand up two capable exascale machines by 2023 as part of the Exascale Computing Project and Distinguished Argonne Fellow Dr. Paul Messina is leading the charge.

Since the project launched last February ECP has awarded $122 million in funding with $39.8 million going toward 22 application development projects, $34 million for 35 software development proposals and $48 million for four co-design centers. At SC16, we spoke with Dr. Messina about the mission of the project, the progress made so far — including a review of these three funding rounds — and the possibility of an accelerated timeline.

Here are highlights from that discussion (the full interview is included at the end of the article).

Why exascale matters

“In the history of computing as one gets the ability to do more calculations or deal with more data, we are able to tackle problems we couldn’t deal with otherwise. A lot of the problems that over the years we first could simulate and validate with an experiment in one-dimension, we’re now able to do it in two or three-dimensions. With exascale, we expect to be able to do things in much greater scale and with more fidelity. In some cases we hope to be able to do predictive simulations, not just to verify that something works the way we thought it would. An example of that would be discovering new materials that are better for batteries, for energy storage.

“Exascale is an arbitrary stepping stone along the way that will continue. Just as we had gigaflops and teraflops, peta- and so on, exascale is one along the way. But when you have an increase in compute power by a factor of one-hundred, chances are you will be able to tackle things that you cannot tackle now. Even at this conference you will hear about certain problems that exascale isn’t good enough for, so that indicates that it’s a stepping stone along the way. But we have identified dozens of applications that are important, problems that can’t be solved today and that we believe with exascale capability we will be able to solve. Precision medicine is one, additive manufacturing for very complex materials is another, climate science and carbon capture simulation, for example, are among the applications we are investing in.”

On the significance of ECP being a project as opposed to a program

“There have been research efforts and investigations into exascale since 2007, nine years ago. At the point that it became a project, it indicates that we really want to get going on it. The reason it is a project is that there are so many things that have to be done simultaneously and in concert with each other. The general outline of the project is that we invest in applications, we invest in the software stack, we invest in hardware technology with the vendor community — the people who develop the technologies so that those technologies will eventually land in products that will be in exascale systems and that will be better suited to our applications — and we also invest in the facilities from their knowledge of what works when they install systems. Those four big pieces have to work together and this is a holistic approach.

“The project will have milestones, some of which are shared between the applications and the software so if application A says ‘I need a programming language feature to express this kind of calculation more easily,’ then we want the compiler and  programming models part of the software to try to address that but then they have to address it together — if it doesn’t work, try again. That’s why it’s a project, because we have to orchestrate the various pieces. It can’t be just invent a nice programming model, tackle a very exciting application. We have to work together to be successful at exascale; same thing goes with the hardware architecture, the node technology and the system technology.”

The mission of ECP

“The mission is to create an exascale ecosystem so that towards the end of the project there will be companies that will be able to bid exascale systems in response to an RFP by the facilities, not the project, but the typical DOE facilities at Livermore, Argonne, Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. There will be a software stack that we hope will not only meet the needs of the exascale applications, but will also be a good HPC software stack because one of our goals is also to help industry and the medium-sized HPC users more easily get into HPC. If the software stack is compatible at the middle end as well as the very highest end, it gives them an on-ramp. And a major goal is the applications we are funding to be ready on day one to use the systems when they are installed. These systems have a lifetime of four to five years. If it takes two years for the applications to get ready to use them productively, half the life of the system has gone by before they can start cranking out results, so part of the ecosystem is a large cadre of application teams that know how to use exascale, they’ve implemented exciting applications, and that will help spread the knowledge and expertise.”

The global exascale race

“The fact that these countries and world regions like the EU have announced major investments in exascale development is an indication that exascale matters. Those countries would not be investing heavily in exascale development if they didn’t think it was useful. The US currently has a goal to develop exascale capability with systems installed and accepted in a time range of seven to ten years. It is a range, and certainly the government is considering an acceleration of that — it might be six to seven years. Any acceleration comes at a price. This project is investing very heavily in applications and software, not just on buying the system from vendors — so it’s a big investment but one that I think is necessary to be able to get the benefits of exascale, to have the applications ready to use and exploit the systems.

“Could we be doing better? If this project had started two-three years ago we would be farther ahead, but that didn’t happen. We got going about a year ago — it isn’t clear that we would be the first country that has an exaflop system. But remember I haven’t used the word exaflop until now. I’ve talked about exascale. What we’re focusing on is having applications and a software stack that runs effectively in a ratio that would indicate that it’s exascale. It might take two exaflops, so who gets an exaflop first might not be as important as who gets the equivalent of exascale. We also have goals around energy usage, 20-30 MW, which is a lot but if we didn’t have a goal like that we might end up with 60 or 100 MW, which is very expensive.

“If we are asked as a project to accelerate, we will do our best to accelerate — it will require more money and more risk, but within reason we will certainly do that.”

Sustainable exascale

“I often emphasize that for the technologies that we’re hoping the vendors will develop partly with our funding and the software stack that we’re developing in collaboration with universities and industry that that will create a sustainable ecosystem. It will not just be that we’ve gotten to exascale, systems can be anointed as exascale, we breath a sigh of relief and relax. It needs to be sustainable and that’s why we really want systems that are in the vendor’s product line — they’re not something they are building just for us one of a kind. It needs to be part of the business model that they want to follow, and software that is usable by many different applications, which will make it sustainable — open source almost exclusively, which again helps sustainability because many people can then contribute to it and help evolve it beyond exascale.”

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!

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: Fugaku, Congress, De Novo Design & More

July 2, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Career Notes: July 2020 Edition

July 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

Supercomputers Enable Radical, Promising New COVID-19 Drug Development Approach

July 1, 2020

Around the world, innumerable supercomputers are sifting through billions of molecules in a desperate search for a viable therapeutic to treat COVID-19. Those molecules are pulled from enormous databases of known compoun Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC-Powered Simulations Reveal a Looming Climatic Threat to Vital Monsoon Seasons

June 30, 2020

As June draws to a close, eyes are turning to the latter half of the year – and with it, the monsoon and hurricane seasons that can prove vital or devastating for many of the world’s coastal communities. Now, climate Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This year is no different though the conversion of ISC to a digital Read more…

By John Russell

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hoefler’s Whirlwind ISC20 Virtual Tour of ML Trends in 9 Slides

June 23, 2020

The ISC20 experience this year via livestreaming and pre-recordings is interesting and perhaps a bit odd. That said presenters’ efforts to condense their comments makes for economic use of your time. Torsten Hoefler’s whirlwind 12-minute tour of ML is a great example. Hoefler, leader of the planned ISC20 Machine Learning... Read more…

By John Russell

At ISC, the Fight Against COVID-19 Took the Stage – and Yes, Fugaku Was There

June 23, 2020

With over nine million infected and nearly half a million dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This