Frontier

Today, the US Department of Energy announced that by 2021 the world’s fastest supercomputer will be built in the US. For the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the supercomputer, Frontier, will be built by chip designer AMD and supercomputer manufacturer Cray.

Expectations are quite high regarding this machine, probably it will produce more than 1.5 exaflops of processing power. A wide range of tasks can be performed by this superpower machine like performing advanced calculations in areas like nuclear and climate research. Frontier can easily perform 1.5 quintillion calculations per second. In a press statement Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said:

Frontier’s record-breaking performance will ensure our country’s ability to lead the world in science that improves the lives and economic prosperity of all Americans and the entire world, Frontier will accelerate innovation in AI by giving American researchers world-class data and computing resources to ensure the next great inventions are made in the United States.”

We can consider that this supercomputer will be the most advanced example of what’s known as “exascale computing.” Its the next generation computing system having incredible computing capacity. The processing power in these computing system is measured in exaflops, or quintillions of calculations per second. One with a whopping eighteen zeros behind it: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, is considered as a quintillion.

AMD gives an idea about the scale of this sort of machine by saying that if we combine the next 160 fastest supercomputers, they will collectively give the processing power of Frontier. An astonishing amount of data, with a bandwidth 24,000,000 times greater than the average home internet connection will be easily handled by it and it will capable of processing 100,000 HD movies in a second. But, we need a huge amount of space for this astonishing machine to work. Frontier will have a correspondingly huge footprint, taking up 7,300 square feet of space (roughly equivalent to two basketball courts)  and containing 90 miles of cabling.

Well, US is not working on Frontier only but there can be more exascale computer of its kind. The supercomputer Aurora is another similar project which is being constructed by Intel and Cray at Argonne National Laboratory. The Department of Energy announced it, earlier this year. Frontier will have greater processing power but it will not be the first exascale computer, as Aurora will likely be the first exascale supercomputer in the US.

However, on the basis of these machines we cannot say that US is the world’s greater computing power, as a year ahead of America, China is expected to have its own exascale supercomputer by 2020. In terms of supercomputer volume, China is the world’s leader and compared to just 109 operated by the US, China is currently home to 227 of the world’s fastest computers. The other main contenders include Japan and the European Union.

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Semiconductor analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, Patrick Moorhead, said the news is a particularly big deal for AMD. This contract is $600 million. Mostly, Intel deals with the world of supercomputer chips and the processors for the world’s fastest supercomputer are still not supplied by AMD since 2012. Moorhead said:

This bodes well for AMD’s future as this is technology that should be in the mainstream market after 2021

He added in an interview to The verge that for a number of reasons, including the performance of its processors, and its recent successes designing semi-custom silicon for Microsoft and Sony, the Department of Energy likely to chose AMD.

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