President Barack Obama this week issued an executive order establishing the National Strategic Computing Initiative to ensure the country stays ahead in High-Performance Computing. Supercomputers are used to simulate complex natural and technological systems, such as galaxies, weather and climate, molecular interactions, electric power grids, and aircraft in flight, the president's office said in a statement.
The new supercomputer research program is designed to advance core technologies to solve difficult computational problems and foster increased use of the new capabilities in the public and private sectors.The goal over the next decade is to build supercomputers capable of one exaflop, called exascale computers. An exascale computer can perform 1018 operations per second. This would be a thousandfold increase over a petascale computer. The first petascale system came into operation in 2008.
According to the Top500 list of fastest supercomputer in the world, the most powerful system today is China’s Milkyway 2, at 33.86 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second), which is almost double the fastest supercomputer in the US — the US Department of Energy’s Titan supercomputer.
However, it’s not just about the flops. HPC “must now assume a broader meaning, encompassing not only flops, but also the ability, for example, to efficiently manipulate vast and rapidly increasing quantities of both numerical and non-numerical data,” according to a post from the Whitehouse.
An example of what the government's new supercomputer research program is trying to accomplish is Computational Fluid Dynamics modeling. The aircraft industry has significantly reduced the need for wind tunnel and flight testing, but current technology can only handle simplified models of the airflow around a wing and under limited flight conditions. A study commissioned by NASA found that exaflop-level performance woud be able to incorporate full CFD modeling of turbulence and dynamic flight conditions in simulations.
“By strategically investing now, we can prepare for increasing computing demands and emerging technological challenges, building the foundation for sustained US leadership for decades to come, while also expanding the role of high-performance computing to address the pressing challenges faced across many sectors,” the president's representatives wrote.
Obama budgeted $126 million for Exascale computing in the 2012 budget, over $90 million of which went to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The DoE has a major ongoing supercomputing research effort focused on reaching exascale computing.