America’s First Exascale Supercomputer Is ‘On Track’ for 2021 Deployment


Next-gen systems like it are expected to drive unprecedented innovation.

After years of preparation and a change of plans, the United States’ first exascale supercomputer will soon be in full function.

“Frontier is being installed now at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Morgan McCorkle, ORNL’s media relations manager confirmed on Monday.

Exascale systems are at the core of the next-generation of high performance supercomputing. They will be capable of operating at one quintillion calculations per second, which is immensely faster than most modern systems. Using them, researchers could process massive amounts of data and conduct potentially groundbreaking simulations spanning many fields at much more rapid rates. Such systems require a great deal of power and generate substantial heat. So, a new, more than two-mile power line recently had to be installed and other renovations had to be made to provide for roughly 40 megawatts of power and cooling for Frontier—before the massive machine’s components could even be staged on the floor of the Oak Ridge facility.

The Energy Department first announced aims to launch this Tennessee-based exascale system in 2019. It’s being produced in partnership with supercomputer manufacturer HPE Cray and chipmaker AMD via a contract award valued at around $600 million. Frontier will be capable of operating at more than 1.5 exaflops, and it’ll take up nearly two football fields worth of space.

“By solving calculations five times faster than today’s top supercomputers—exceeding a quintillion calculations per second—exascale systems like Frontier will enable scientists to develop new technologies for energy, medicine, and materials,” McCorkle told Nextgov.

Aside from Frontier, the Energy Department is rolling out other exascale supercomputers as well in the coming months, including Argonne National Lab’s Aurora and Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s El Capitan. Aurora was originally slated to be the first to go into full operation, but it was delayed due to manufacturing process issues. Frontier then moved to the front of the deployment line.  

McCorkle did not say exactly when installation for the ORNL system initially kicked off. Still, it was reportedly ahead of the agency’s previously stated priority to receive at least one exascale system by Sept. 30 of this year. 

“Frontier is on track to be delivered by the end of 2021, with full user operations scheduled for 2022,” McCorkle said.