Oak Ridge unveils most powerful computer

You'd need 63 billion years to do what this computer can do in a second

The Summit, the world's speediest supercomputer, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The Summit, the world's speediest supercomputer, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
photo In this Aug. 8, 2014 photo Governor Rick Perry pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State convention in Fort Worth, Texas. Two Texans, one White House. Is the 2016 Republican campaign trail big enough? After plummeting from a front-runner to political punchline three years ago, Governor Perry appears poised to run again _ hoping to convince conservatives he can better cope with the national spotlight. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Not so fast, China. The United States just won back bragging rights in the global supercomputer race.

For the past five years, China has had the world's fastest computer, a striking symbolic achievement that highlighted the nation's ambitions and progress in high-tech.

But the United States has regained the lead thanks to a new supercomputer built for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee by IBM in a partnership with Nvidia. The speedy performance of the machine, called Summit, was announced Friday.

"We're seeing the U.S. back on top again," said Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee who tracks supercomputer speeds and rankings.

The Chinese government's aggressive push to become the leader in technologies such as artificial intelligence, microchips and cellular networks has ignited a rivalry with the United States, the traditional front-runner in the digital realm.

The Summit computer, which cost $200 million to build, is not just fast - it is also at the forefront of a new generation of supercomputers that embrace technologies at the center of the friction between the United States and China. The machines are adding artificial intelligence and the ability to handle vast amounts of data to traditional supercomputer technology to tackle the most daunting computing challenges in science, industry and national security.

Summit can do mathematical calculations at the rate of 200 quadrillion per second, or 200 petaflops. If a person did one calculation a second, she would have to live for more than 63 billion years to match what the machine can do in a second.

Supercomputers now perform tasks that include simulating nuclear tests, predicting climate trends, finding oil deposits and cracking encryption codes. Scientists say that further gains and fresh discoveries in fields like medicine, new materials and energy technology will rely on the approach that Summit embodies.

"These are big data and artificial intelligence machines," said John E. Kelly, who oversees IBM Research. "That's where the future lies."

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry came to Oak Ridge Friday to celebrate America regaining the lead in supercomputers.,

"Today's launch of the Summit supercomputer demonstrates the strength of American leadership in scientific innovation and technology development," Perry said Friday at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "It's going to have a profound impact in energy research, scientific discovery, economic competitiveness, and national security."

With a peak performance of 200,000 trillion calculations per second-or 200 petaflops, Summit will be eight times more powerful than America's current top-ranked system, Titan, which is also housed at ORNL. For certain scientific applications, Summit will also be capable of more than 3 billion-billion mixed precision calculations per second.

Perry said the new machine "moves the nation one step closer to the goal of delivering an exascale supercomputing system by 2021.

"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.

Summit's computing capacity is so powerful that it has the ability to compute 30 years' worth of data saved on a desktop computer in just one hour. ORNL researchers have also figured out how to harness the power and intelligence of Summit's state-of-art architecture to successfully run the world's first exascale scientific calculation, or exaops, as DOE's fleet of proposed exascale computing systems come online in the next five years.

"From its genesis 75 years ago, ORNL has a history and culture of solving large and difficult problems with national scope and impact," ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said. "ORNL scientists were among the scientific teams that achieved the first gigaflops calculations in 1988, the first teraflops calculations in 1998, the first petaflops calculations in 2008, and now the first exaops calculations in 2018. "

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, said the the unprecedented power of Oak Ridge's new super computer "will enable scientists to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing our nation and the world today.

"When I reflect on Titan's tremendous contributions to countless disciplines, I can only imagine the impact that Summit will have," Fleischmann said.

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