Critical Update: How to Develop Apps for Supercomputers that Don’t Exist Yet


The Energy Department will soon launch machines capable of completing a quintillion calculations a second.

U.S. national laboratories are getting set to turn on new supercomputers with performance capabilities of a billion billion operations per second. 

The in-the-making systems will mark a major shift from the petascale age of computing—where the fastest supercomputers can perform a quadrillion operations per second—to the ultramodern exascale era

“We're quite excited because this era is around the corner,” Dr. Doug Kothe said in the latest episode of Nextgov’s Critical Update podcast. “It's quite close.”

Kothe has more than three decades of experience inside federal labs, and now serves as the director of the Energy Department’s Exascale Computing Project, or ECP. That program traces back to town hall-like meetings that started years ago he explained—and it was ultimately formed to ensure the production of “capable” exascale systems, with hardware, software, applications and platforms that work together upon delivery. 

A vast network of some of the nation’s top scientists are contributing to the creation of a diverse array of exascale system components. He reflected on some of the in-development applications, like those for simulating wind farms, performing precision medicine, fundamental chemical design and more.

“We have national security applications that are working to assure the reliance of our nuclear weapons stockpile. We have fundamental science discovery applications that are certainly quite exciting,” Kothe said, adding “we're really very broad in our application portfolio, and yet, each team is also going very deep.”

He shed some light on the program’s evolution, what it’s like developing for nascent supercomputers that are also in development—and the exciting elements exascale will have in store.

“I hope and expect that maybe within a year, if not sooner, you're going to see some great results roll out that are going to raise eyebrows and have your layperson go ‘wow, that's incredible,’” Kothe said.

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