US Frontier Supercomputer Named Fastest in the World

Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The Frontier exscale system has been in development by Department of Energy researchers since 2019.

The Department of Energy’s Frontier supercomputer was designated as the fastest computing system in the world on Monday, part of the agency’s growing portfolio of developmental computing technologies.

Housed in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the Frontier supercomputer stands out with two exaflops computing power, which translates to two quintillion calculations per second. Faster computing abilities help researchers solve complex problems and process advanced algorithms that can lead to breakthroughs in fields like national security and energy.

“Frontier is ushering in a new era of exascale computing to solve the world’s biggest scientific challenges,” said ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia. “This milestone offers just a preview of Frontier’s unmatched capability as a tool for scientific discovery.”

Exascale systems are emerging computing technologies that are able to process one quintillion calculations per second, and are faster than standard computers. Frontier, one of the first viable supercomputers that can operate at exascale capabilities, has been under development since 2019

In exascale systems, exaflops represent calculations or problems the computer system can perform. 

A team of experts from both public and private sectors worked during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to construct and install the processors that compose the Frontier system, including 9,400 nodes and 90 miles of networking cables.

“When researchers gain access to the fully operational Frontier system later this year, it will mark the culmination of work that began over three years ago involving hundreds of talented people across the Department of Energy and our industry partners at HPE [Hewlett Packard Enterprise] and AMD [Advanced Micro Devices],” Jeff Nichols, the ORNL Associate Lab Director for computing and computational sciences said. “Scientists and engineers from around the world will put these extraordinary computing speeds to work to solve some of the most challenging questions of our era, and many will begin their exploration on Day One.”

Four other U.S.-based supercomputers made the global list of fastest computers, including the Summit system at ORNL and the Sierra at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. 

Lawmakers took note of the Frontier’s designation and applauded the leadership within ORNL. 

“This is an incredible accomplishment by the team at Oak Ridge and a testament to the value of our National Labs,” House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-OK, said. “Exascale is the next generation of computing power and it’s critical that the United States leads the way in this technology.”

The Frontier’s accomplishment comes as countries worldwide compete to harness more advanced computing power as hackers become more sophisticated and threaten national infrastructure. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have allocated significant federal funding to advanced quantum computing in American research facilities––something other governments, including China’s, have been steadily funding.