The Supercomputer Race Goes to Summit As The United States Retakes The Lead For Fastest Computer In The World

Posted By on June 8, 2018

America’s new supercomputer beats China’s fastest machine to take title of world’s most powerful supercomputer. Summit is a stepping stone toward a world of exascale computing.

The winner: The US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has taken the wraps off Summit, which boasts peak computing power of 200 petaflops, or 200 million billion calculations a second. That makes it a million times faster than your typical laptop.

The loser: China. Summit is 60 percent faster than the previous supercomputing leader, the Sunway TaihuLight based in the Chinese city of Wuxi. Consolation prize: China still boasted way more entries than the US in a list of the fastest 500 supercomputers published last year.

AI smarts: Summit is the first supercomputer designed from the ground up to handle machine learning, neural networks, and other AI applications. Its many thousands of AI-optimized chips from Nvidia and IBM can handle demanding tasks, such as crunching through mountains of reports and medical images to help unearth hidden causes of disease.

Jack Wells of Oak Ridge says the experience of building Summit, which fills an area the size of two tennis courts and carries 4,000 gallons of water a minute through its cooling system to carry away about 13 megawatts of heat, will help inform work on exascale machines, which will require even more impressive infrastructure. Things like Summit’s advanced memory management and the novel, high-bandwidth linkages that connect its chips will be essential for handling the vast amounts of data exascale machines will generate. Scientists at the national lab say they’ve already leveraged Summit’s AI smarts to conduct what is effectively an exascale comparative genomics calculation.

Supersized: The machine’s 4,608 servers and associated gear fill the space of two tennis courts and weigh more than a large commercial aircraft.

Why this matters: Topping the supercomputing charts isn’t just a matter of national pride. The machines are widely used in industry and also for national security tasks, such as developing nuclear weapons. Lessons from Summit will also inform the push to create “exascale” computers capable of handling a billion billion calculations a second. These are expected to come online in the early 2020s.

by Martin Giles

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