US Closes in on Exascale: Frontier Installation Is Underway

By Tiffany Trader

September 29, 2021

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, held by Zoom this week (Sept. 29-30), it was revealed that the Frontier supercomputer is currently being installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The staff at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, backed by the Exascale Computing Project community and technology partner HPE, is hard at work fielding the United States’ first exascale system this year, and ensuring that the system is ready for real science on day one.

Associate Director of the DOE’s Office of Science for Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) Barb Helland declared that the agency has met its priority goal to “by September 30, 2021, begin deployment (receiving and installing hardware) of at least one Exascale Computing system.”

Frontier installation underway at ORNL (Source: ORNL/DOE)

This is a major milestone in the DOE’s larger mission goal to “engage in research and development to create a capable exascale computing ecosystem that integrates hardware and software capability delivering at least 100 times the performance of current 10 petaflops (10^15 floating-point operations per second) systems across a range of applications representing government needs and societal priorities such as Artificial Intelligence (Al) technologies.”

“We’re getting cabinets,” Helland told the nearly 150 ASCAC meeting attendees, “Frontier is being delivered.”

“And this is important because the department had an agency priority goal … to engage in the research and development of a capable exascale computing ecosystem. The main milestone that we had to meet in this agency priority goal is ‘by September 30, 2021, begin the deployment, receiving and installing, of at least one exascale system.’ That system is Frontier,” she said.

Frontier cabinets being installed (Source: ORNL/DOE)

Built by HPE, Frontier will span 9,000+ Cray EX nodes, each consisting of one third-gen AMD Epyc CPU plus four Radeon Instinct MI200 GPUs, connected via Slingshot 11 networking. Frontier is projected to provide more than 1.5 exaflops of HPC and AI processing performance, according to ORNL.

This summer, we learned that Frontier is poised to meet the once-aspirational 20MW exascale power target set by DARPA in 2008. Delivering 1.5 exaflops in 29 megawatts comes out to 19.33 megawatts for 1 exaflops.

Presented at the HPC User Forum (Sept. 7, 2021)

If accomplished, this impressive jump in energy efficiency will showcase the technology advances made by HPE (which acquired Cray in 2019) and AMD, which just today publicized its goal to achieve 30x energy efficiency gains by 2025.

These and other technology advances would not have been possible in this timeframe without the public investment delivered through a series of exascale-development programs (FastForward, etc.) and other investments, made via the CORAL (Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne and Livermore) programs as well as the National Strategic Computing Initiative and Exascale Computing Project.

“OLCF is ready for Frontier” (source: DOE ASCAC meeting slide, Sept. 29, 2021)

Full size header image showing Frontier installation currently underway: here.

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