U.S., China Engaged in High-Stakes Exacale Computing Competition - Page 3

Some vendors also are working on their own high-performance systems, in particular Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and The Machine, a system announced three years ago that will include such emerging technologies as silicon photonics, custom processors, a new operating system and the advanced memristor memory technology.

The Exascale Computing Project is working with a number of high-profile technology companies—including Intel, IBM and Nvidia—in the development of the exascale systems and will announce that other companies are joining the effort in the near future.

The first system, scheduled for 2021, will be based on what ECP officials are calling an “advanced architecture,” though it’s unclear what that will entail. The follow-up systems are set to be delivered in 2022 and deployed in 2023.

The drive to exascale computing is an international endeavor that has accelerated what already has been an active competition among the world's leading industrialized nations. Japanese tech giant Fujitsu is developing an exascale system called the Post-K supercomputer that will be based on the ARM architecture rather than the company’s own SPARC64 fx processors.

Seven European Union countries—Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal—in April announced the creation of EuroHPC, a program designed to drive the development of next-generation supercomputers.

However, the most closely-watch competition is between the United States and China. For decades the U.S. has been the world’s technology leader, which has been a key factor in the country’s economic and military success.

But the next few years will determine whether the center of technological power will shift to the eastern hemisphere. Leading in the exascale world is not only a point of national pride, but also important to a country’s global standing in the coming decades. The reason the U.S. "has done so well in the post-World War II world is [that] we have been the pioneers of the microprocessor technology,” Teich said.

ECP officials have said that the United States continues to lead the world in computing technology, but that position is not assured going forward since China is aggressively developing its exascale capabilities.

In 2011, then-President Barack Obama asked Congress to spend $126 million on its exascale projects, and in 2015 signed an executive order creating the National Strategic Computing Initiative to coordinate efforts of the federal government, public and private sectors to create a long-term strategy for the development of advanced HPC systems.

However, there is worry among some in the HPC community that the exascale efforts will be hindered by deep cuts proposed by the Trump administration to the DoE budget, though there’s no guarantee that Congress would agree to such cuts.

However, while ECP officials acknowledge that China is spending a lot of money on exascale projects, there are other advantages that nation has over the United States. For example, the United States is working with vendors that need to build systems that can be commercially successful and used by a broad array of organizations.

Unlike those in China, these U.S. systems also need to be able to run both new and legacy applications. In addition, they need to include components that can be used in other commercial systems, from other HPC machines to consumer devices.

While the first exascale system in the United States that will appear in 2021 will be based on an advanced architecture, the hope is succeeding systems will not need such a radical approach, making them more commercially viable. In addition, the software stacks need to be usable by a wide range of developers, rather than just a small number of programmers with narrow skills sets.