Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

By John Russell

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD, Cray, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), IBM, Intel, and NVIDIA. The Department of Energy (DoE) will provide $258 million while the vendors must contribute at least 40 percent of the total costs bringing the total investment to at least $430 million. Under the recently accelerated ECP timetable, the U.S. expects to field one or two exascale machines in 2021 followed by others in the 2023 timeframe.

Few details about the specific technology projects being undertaken by the PathForward companies were revealed, nor was how the money will be divided among the vendors. Nevertheless the awards mark an important milestone in ECP efforts noted ECP director Paul Messina.

Speaking at a press pre-briefing yesterday, Messina said the PathForward investment was critical to moving hardware technology forward at an accelerated pace. “By that I mean beyond what the vendor or manufacture roadmaps currently have scheduled. [It also helps bridge] the gap between open ended architecture R&D and advanced product development as focused on the delivery of the first of a kind capable exascale systems,” said Messina.

The ECP program has many elements. PathForward awards are intended to drive the hardware technology research and development required for exascale. Applications and software technology development fall under different ECP programs and have a different budget. The actual procurement of the eventual exascale systems is also done differently and funded separately; the individual national labs and facilities which will house and operate the computers purchase their individual systems directly. It now seems likely the first two exascale computing sites will be Argonne National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory based on spikes in their facilities budget in the proposed FY 2018 DoE budget.

Much of today’s announcement and yesterday’s briefing had been expected. Messina did provide confirmation that Aurora, the planned successor to Mira supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory, is likely to be pushed out or changed. “At present I believe that the Aurora system contract is being reviewed for potential changes that would result in a subsequent system in a time different timeframe from the original Aurora system. Since it’s just early negotiations I don’t think we can be any more specific that,” he said.

It would have been interesting to get a clearer sense of a few specific PathForward technology projects but none were discussed. Much of the work is predictably under NDA. Messina identified what are by now the familiar challenges facing the task of achieving exascale computing: massive parallelism, memory and storage, reliability, and energy consumption. “Specifically the work funded by PathForward has been strategically aligned to address those key challenges through development of innovative memory architectures, higher speed interconnect, improved reliability of systems, and approaches for increasing computer power and capability without prohibitive increases in energy demand,” he said.

Messina noted vendor progress in PathForward would be closely monitored: “Firms will be required to deliver final reports on the outcomes of their research but it’s very important to note this is a co-design effort with other [ECP] activities and we will be having frequent, formally scheduled intermediate reviews every few months. The funding for each of the vendors is based on specific work packages, and as each work package is delivered which would be an investigation on a particular aspect of the research. So it isn’t that we send the money and wait three years and get an answer.”

Messina also emphasized the labs (eventual systems owners) and the ECP app/software teams would be deeply involved in co-design and work product assessment. “Application developers and systems software developers, software library developers, for example, will participate in those evaluations,” he said.

All of the vendors emphasized expectations to incorporate results of their exascale research into their commercial offerings. William Dally, chief scientist and SVP of research at NVIDIA noted this is NVIDIA’s the sixth DoE R&D contract and that previous research contracts led to major innovations, “such as energy efficient circuits and the NVLink interconnect being incorporated into our Maxwell, Pascal, and Volta GPUs.”

In the official DoE release, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is quoted, “Continued U.S. leadership in high performance computing is essential to our security, prosperity, and economic competitiveness as a nation,” said Secretary Perry. “These awards will enable leading U.S. technology firms to marshal their formidable skills, expertise, and resources in the global race for the next stage in supercomputing—exascale-capable systems.”

It does seem as if increasing tension in the international community is firing up regional and national competitive zeal in pursuit of exascale. Here’s an excerpt from today’s official release:

“Exascale systems will be at least 50 times faster than the nation’s most powerful computers today, and global competition for this technological dominance is fierce. While the U.S. has five of the 10 fastest computers in the world, its most powerful — the Titan system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory — ranks third behind two systems in China. However, the U.S. retains global leadership in the actual application of high performance computing to national security, industry, and science.”

Pressed on how the U.S. stacked up against internationals rivals, particularly China, in the race to exascale, Messina said, “Our current plan is to have delivery of at least one, not necessarily one, in 2021. I would not characterize that as to catch up with China. We do know of course that China has indicated they plan to have at least one exascale system in 2020 but we, for example, do not know whether that system will be a peak exaflops system versus what we are planning to deliver. A concise answer [to your question is we plan to deliver], at least one system in 2021 and another if not in 2021, then in 2022.”

See HPCwire article for a broader overview of the ECP, Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 slides.

The six selected PathForward vendors all seek to leverage their various expertise and ongoing R&D efforts. Senior executives and research staff from each company participated in yesterday’s briefing but very few specific details were offered, perhaps understandably so. Here are snippets from their comments.

  • AMD. “Exascale is important because it pushes industry to innovate more and faster. While the focus of the PathForward program is on HPC the benefits are applicable across a wide range of computing platforms and cloud services as well as computational domains such as machine learning and data science,” said Alan Lee, corporate VP for research and advanced development. He positioned AMD as the only company with both x86 and GPU offerings and expertise in melding the two.
  • Cray. “We care very little about peak performance. We are committed to delivering sustained performance on real workloads,” said Steve Scott, SVP and chief technology officer. Cray intends to explore new advances in node-level and system-level technologies and architectures for exascale systems. “[We’ll focus] on building systems that are highly flexible and upgradeable over time in order to take advantage of various [emerging] processor and storage technology.”
  • HPE. HPE plans to leverage its several years of R&D into memory driven computing technologies – think The Machine project. “PathForward will significantly accelerate the pace of our development and allow us to leverage activities and investments such as The Machine. [W]e will accelerate R&D into areas such as silicon photonics, balanced systems architecture, and software [for example],” said Mike Vildibill, VP, advanced technologies, exascale development & federal R&D programs.
  • IBM. “[We believe] future computing is going to be very data centric and we are focused very much on building solutions that allow complex analytics and modeling and simulation to actually be used on very large data sets. We see the major technical challenges to an exascale design to be power efficiency, reliability, scalability, and programmability and we feel very strongly those challenges need to be addressed in the context of a full system design effort,” said Jim Sexton, IBM Fellow and director of data centric systems, IBM Research.
  • Intel. “Exascale from Intel’s perspective is not only about high performance computing. It’s also about artificial intelligence and data analytics. We think these three are all part of the solution and need to be encompassed. So HPC is continuing to grow. It’s really established itself as one of the three pillars of scientific discovery, along with theory and experiment. AI is quickly growing and probably the fastest growing segment of computing as we find ways to efficiently use data to find relationships to make accurate predictions,” said Al Gara, Intel Fellow, data center group chief architect, exascale systems. He singles out managing and reducing power consumption as one area Intel will work on.
  • NIVDIA. “This contract will focus on critical areas including energy efficiency, GPU architectures and resilience, and our finding will certainly be incorporating to future generations of GPUs after the Volta generation,” said Dally, Ph.D. “It also allows us to focus on improving the resilience of our GPUs which allows them to be applied at greater scale than in the past.”

At least for the moment, the expectation is work done during this PathForward contract will be sufficient to support ECP. Messina said, “At present, we are not [planning a second PathForward RFP for the 2021 systems.]” in response to a question.

Link to DoE press release:

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

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

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

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