The US has budgeted $600 million to build its second “exascale” supercomputer, which is slated to go online in 2021.
The Frontier supercomputer will be capable of completing more than 1.5 quintillion calculations per second, according to the US Department of Energy, which announced more details about the upcoming system on Tuesday.
In March, the department hailed the coming arrival of a separate $500 million exascale supercomputer, called Aurora. It too is slated to go online in 2021. However, Aurora will feature technology from Intel. Frontier, on the other hand, is being built with silicon from rival AMD.
Specifically, Frontier will run custom Epyc CPU processors and Radeon Instinct GPU chips, connected over AMD’s low-latency, high-bandwith Infinity Fabric interconnect technology. The machine itself will cover about 7,300 square feet, or almost the size of two basketball courts, and require about 90 miles of cabling. To cool the system, Frontier will require about 5,900 gallons of water flow per minute.
“When it’s deployed it’s going to be the fastest machine in the world,” said Thomas Zacharia, director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where the Frontier supercomputer will be built.
In a call with journalists, Zacharia said Frontier is not in competition with Aurora. The goal is to instead ensure the US remains on the forefront of supercomputing technology, which can be used to unlock new breakthroughs in scientific research.
The upcoming exascale machines will be at least five times more powerful than the current fastest supercomputer, the Summit, which is also based at the Oak Ridge laboratory. With the exascale systems, scientists will be able to create more accurate computing models to research fusion power, develop new drug treatments, and test new theories in the realms of physics and astronomy.
“Exascale isn’t just about a new system. It’s about a new era,” said Peter Ungaro, CEO of supercomputer maker Cray, another partner on the project. In addition, Frontier is being optimized to run AI-powered programs. As a result, the system will effectively become “the most powerful AI” anyone has seen up to that point, Zacharia said.
Still, the US won’t be alone in creating an exascale supercomputer. China, the US’s major competitor in the supercomputing industry, is also reportedly working on its own machine, which could arrive in 2021.
However, expect the US to build a third exascale supercomputer after 2021. Last year, the Department of Energy budgeted a total of $1.8 billion to build a pair of exascale supercomputers to follow Aurora.