ORNL launches world’s most powerful computer

Oak Ridge National Laboratory and IBM have successfully built and launched the Summit supercomputer, the world’s most powerful and smartest supercomputer.

The powerful computer is the next step toward a national goal of developing the world’s first fully capable exascale machine by 2021.

An exascale computer is one that is capable of making one billion billion calculations per second.

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry traveled to Oak Ridge to celebrate the historic computing milestone with Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

Celebrating a milestone

“This is how it is supposed to work I think,” Perry said. “I think Americans look at a day like today and say, ‘That is why I send my tax dollars to Washington.’” The Summit supercomputer has a peak performance of 200,000 trillion calculations per second — or 200 petaflops, making it eight times faster than the Titan Cray X supercomputer that came before it.

For certain applications, Summit has proven capable of making exascale calculations.

ORNL director Thomas Zacharia said Summit has already proven itself capable of making exascale calculations in some scientific areas. During its installation, scientists used it to make more than 1.8 quintillion calculations in a single second in bioenergy and human health research.

“This is the first time anyone has broken the exascale barrier,” Zacharia said. “Today’s Summit also gives us confidence we can deliver on a fully capable exascale computing resource by the year 2021.”

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., lauded the development Friday afternoon.

“Today’s announcement ... is further proof that the area’s scientific brainpower, energy research and technological capabilities are some of the best in the world,” Alexander said.

 Fleischmann said he is “truly excited” by Summit’s potential impact in scientific impact. “Summit will empower scientists to address a wide range of new challenges, accelerate discovery, spur innovation, and above all, benefit the American people,” he said.

What will Summit do?

Summit’s unprecedented computing power will aid scientists in researching energy, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, astrophysics and medicine in ways that were not previously possible.

The machine’s high-performance file system and fast data paths allow researchers to get more accurate results faster than ever before.

Scientists are already training Summit to read documents and abstract information to identify hidden disease factors like genes, biological markers and environment for cancer surveillance.

“There are things this computer does that I can’t explain, but what I can explain is that there are people’s lives out there that can be changed, maybe a loved one with a terrible disease,” Perry said. It’s what we do right here in Oak Ridge, we find a cure ... It’s about making people’s lives better.”

“The Department of Energy decided decades ago to be a leader in computing,” Zacharia said. “On several occasions, ORNL has hosted the most powerful computers in the world.”

Summit replaces ORNL’s Titan Cray X supercomputer, which debuted as the world’s leading computer in 2012 with 76 quadrillion calculations per second.

It was the world’s most powerful computer, but China and Switzerland quickly caught up and Titan dropped to fourth place in the world last year.

America, ORNL ‘back in the game’

Summit puts ORNL in the lead again.

“We know we are in a competition, and we know this competition is real and it matters who gets there first,” Perry said.

“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, whether it’s our national security, economics, scientific discovery or energy research. There are other nations racing to develop their own technology.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brittany Crocker

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Published June 14, 2018