US has top leadership in supercomputing technology

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Frontier is the only exascale supercomputer in the world.
Photo: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Frontier is the world’s fastest supercomputer solving calculations five times faster than today’s top supercomputer. This incredibly powerful system is installed in Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a leading research and development institute in the US.

It is the world’s first exascale computer capable of a quintillion calculations per second, that is, a one with 18 zeros behind it. Simply put, it would take the entire population of Earth more than four years to calculate what Frontier can do in one second. 

Built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Frontier offers scientists  a new tool for addressing some of the biggest challenges facing the world, from climate change to understanding cancer to designing new kinds of materials.

Frontier is number one on the Top500 which lists the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Its peak performance just tips over 1,685 petaflops per seconds beats every other supercomputer installed anywhere else. It is three times more powerful than the second most powerful supercomputer on this list, the Fujitsu-built Fugaku whose peak performance clocks in at about 537 petaflops per second. 

Frontier boasts 8,730,112 cores and a power efficiency rating of 52.23 gigaflops/watt. It also relies on gigabit ethernet for data transfer. 

HPE, which is a leading supercomputer company, has installed three of the top 10 supercomputers on the Top500 list. Apart from ORNL, it also installed LUMI (Large Unified Modern Infrastructure) in Finland which is the fastest supercomputer in Europe and third fastest in the world, and Perlmutter at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US, which is the eighth fastest supercomputer in the world. 

In Asia, HPE delivered Setonix at Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, Australia, and LANTA at the National Science and Technology Development Agency, Thailand. 

In Singapore, HPE was awarded a project in 2021 by the National Supercomputing Centre to build its second supercomputer to facilitate various research areas, including climate change, smart nation initiatives and biomedical science. 

China and the US have been battling for supercomputing leadership.  However, in recent years, the US has stepped ahead. The number of supercomputer installations in China ranked in the Top500 has declined but the country still boasts having the most of these high performance computing machines. 

From 226 Chinese installations in the Top500 in June 2020, the number is down to 162 in the latest list of November 2022. However, US installations have edged up from 113 to 127 in the same period.

China’s supercomputer strength can be seen in the two systems which has been consistently ranked in the Top500 since 2020. They are the Sunway TaihuLight machine at the National Supercomputing Centre in Wuxi, China, and the Tianhe at the National Super Computer Centre in Guangzhou, China, ranked as number seventh and 10th in the Top500 list respectively. 

According to the IEEE Spectrum magazine, judging by the Top500 list alone, China’s fastest entry, Sunway TaihuLight, trails far behind Frontier, clocking in at just 93 petaflops across its more than 10 million cores (That’s just eight per cent of Frontier’s speed).

This story was written by Vishwesh Iyer.

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