US Poised to Take Back Top Supercomputer Ranking From China

Summit Supercomputer

The US now claims to have the world’s fastest supercomputer.

On Friday, the US government and IBM unveiled Summit, a supercomputer capable of reaching 200 quadrillion calculations per second or 200 petaflops, making it 60 percent faster than China’s top machine.

“President Trump is determined to make America first in supercomputing,” US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said during the unveiling.

“We know we’re in a competition. We know this competition is real and it matters who gets there first,” he added, alluding to China, which in recent years has consistently produced the top supercomputers.

In November, China had 202 machines on the Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers while the US only had 143, the lowest level since the rankings began 25 years ago.

Perry said supercomputers are crucial to advancing research related to national security and scientific discovery. “The ability to show the rest of the world that America is back in the game—and we’re back in the game in a big way—is really important,” he added.

Summit Supercomputer 2

Built with funding from the US Department of Energy, the Summit computer uses over 9,000 IBM POWER9 CPUs and more than 27,000 Nvidia Volta GPUs. All that computing power means it can process 30 years worth of data saved on a desktop PC in a mere hour.

Although the US is touting Summit as the world’s fastest supercomputer, the official rankings won’t be out until later this month, when the organizers behind the Top500 list update the index.

How long the US might hold on to a top ranking is another matter. The US plans to increase its funding in high-performance computing, Perry said, with the goal of building a system capable of exascale (1000 petaflop) computing by 2021. However, China is also developing an exascale computer, which could arrive as early as 2020.

As for Summit, the Energy Department plans to use the new supercomputer for scientific modeling and simulations in academic research.

“For instance, with this system we can make connections and predictions that will help us advance cancer research, understand genetic factors that contribute to opioid addiction, simulate atomic interactions to develop stronger, more energy efficient materials, and better understand supernovas to explore the origins of the universe,” IBM said.

Summit is housed in the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which also holds the US’s previously top-ranked system, Titan. In total, Summit weighs in at 340 tons and can fill two tennis courts. To prevent it from overheating, more than 4,000 gallons of water are pumped through the supercomputer’s cooling system every minute.

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