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  • The next generation of computing is on the horizon, and it is super.

  • No, literally: this field of computer science and engineering is called supercomputing,

  • and several new machines may just smash all the records...with two nations neck and neck in a race to see who will get there first.

  • Supercomputers are pretty different from something like your laptop.

  • They can take up whole BUILDINGS, and are used to solve some of the most complicated problems in the world.

  • Just by looking at them, they may not seem that different from a machine like the ENIAC,

  • the first ever programmable digital computer.

  • The ENIAC was capable of about 400 FLOPS.

  • FLOPS stands for floating-point operations per second,

  • which basically tells us how many calculations the computer can do per second.

  • This makes measuring FLOPS a way of calculating computing power.

  • So, the ENIAC was sitting at 400 FLOPS in 1945, and in the ten years it was operational,

  • it may have performed more calculations than all of humanity had up until that point in time

  • that was the kind of leap digital computing gave us.

  • From that 400 FLOPS we upgraded to 10,000 FLOPS, and then a million, a billion, a trillion, a quadrillion FLOPS.

  • That's petascale computing, and that's the level of today's most powerful supercomputers.

  • But what's coming next is exascale computing.

  • That's, let's see...18 zeroes.

  • 1 quintillion operations per second.

  • Exascale computers will be a thousand times better performing than the petascale machines we have now.

  • Or, to put it another way, if you wanted to do the same number of calculations that an exascale computer can do in ONE second...

  • you'd be doing math for over 31 billion years.

  • So...what the heck do we need that kind of computing power for?

  • Large-scale phenomena like climate change have so many moving parts that are all affected by minute changes

  • in all the other variables, and the effects of these changes need to be projected forward in time.

  • That's a really complex situation to simulate.

  • On the other end of the spectrum, molecular interactions between cells and drug compounds are also extremely complex

  • just on the nanoscaleand computer models of these interactions allow us to see the actual mechanisms

  • of how diseases make us sick and how different medicines could interrupt those interactions.

  • Exascale computing will provide us with more power, speed, specificity, and accuracy than we've ever had before.

  • It'll be like looking at the world through a new pair of prescription glasses,

  • bringing into sharper focus everything from chemistry to genetics, aircraft design to nuclear physics, even energy grid planning.

  • But increased performance comes with increased cost.

  • Exascale systems have price tags in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and they require huge amounts of electricity to run.

  • And just like with humans, running makes computers hot,

  • so computing facilities consume even more energy (and cold water) to cool the computers down

  • and keep them at optimum performance.

  • Computers that are unrivaled in their power are also unrivaled in their complexity.

  • Exascale machines will, for lack of a better word, 'think' differently than their predecessors.

  • So we're going to need to connect their processors in a different way.

  • Not only that, but exascale processors have to connect to memory and storage in a different way too

  • and both of these will have to contain unprecedented amounts of information.

  • From the software side, you essentially have to 'talk' to these computers in a different way than you do to petascale machines,

  • so if you want to take codes that were designed to run on petascale computers and now run them on an exascale machine...

  • you gotta do some major code overhaul.

  • Which all means...the dawn of exascale requires huge innovations in everything from the physical architecture of the hardware

  • to software programming to engineering the buildings these computers will live in.

  • So, when can we expect to see these mega machines?

  • Well, the first exascale machine in the U.S. was slated to arrive at Argonne National Lab sometime in 2021,

  • but has been delayed.

  • That supercomputer is called Aurora, and its team plans to use Intel GPU computer chips

  • the slow development of which that seems to be holding things up.

  • So, the machine that was supposed to come online second has now moved into first place.

  • That's the Frontier supercomputer, which may come online this year at Oak Ridge National Lab and will clock in at 1.5 exaflops.

  • And in 2023 Frontier will be followed by El Capitan at Lawrence Livermore National Lab,

  • a machine capable of 2 whole exaflops.

  • That's a heck of a lot of power.

  • But it remains to be seen if the U.S. will actually get to exascale computing first.

  • Because China is also bringing three new exascale machines into the spotlight...

  • and may very well get there before anyone else.

  • Even though the U.S. and China are leading the pack,

  • many other countries, from Japan to places in Europe, also have exascale machines in the works.

  • Againthe machine hardware itself is really just the skeleton of exascale computing.

  • To actually bring that maximum power to bear on some of the most complex problems scientists are trying to untangle today,

  • there's a whole lot more going on behind the scenes.

  • So, software engineersnow's your time to shine.

  • If you want more on boundary-breaking computing innovations, check out our video on 'hot' quantum computing chips here.

  • And if you have other computational news you want us to cover, let us know in the comments below.

  • Make sure you subscribe to Seeker for all your coverage of bits and bytes, and as always, thanks for watching.

  • I'll see ya in the next one.

The next generation of computing is on the horizon, and it is super.

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The World’s Most Powerful Supercomputer Is Almost Here

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    Summer posted on 2021/05/03
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