The VICE Channels

    Image: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    Obama's New Executive Order Says the US Must Build an Exascale Supercomputer

    Written by

    Jason Koebler

    Staff Writer

    President Obama has established a new initiative across multiple government agencies that will focus entirely on creating the fastest supercomputers ever devised. The National Strategic Computing Initiative will attempt to build the first ever exascale computer, which would be more than 30 times faster than today's fastest supercomputer, according to an executive order issued Wednesday.

    The initiative will primarily be a partnership between the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and National Science Foundation, which will be designing supercomputers primarily for use by NASA, the FBI, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Homeland Security, and NOAA. Each of those agencies will be allowed to provide input during the early stages of the development of these new computers.

    The primary task of the initiative is "accelerating delivery of a capable exascale computing system," the order said. For context, it is believed that an exascale computer might be capable of mimicking the human brain, something impossible with current technology.

    As of June, the fastest supercomputer in the world is China's Tianhe-2, a computer that runs at 33.86 petaflops, which means it can perform 33.86 quadrillion floating point operations per second. The US has the second fastest supercomputer, a machine at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that runs at 17.6 petaflops. Earlier this year, Intel and Cray won a $200 million contract from the federal government to build a 180-petaflops computer by 2018.

    Obama's initiative seeks to create the world's first exaflop computer, capable of running at 1,000 petaflops or higher.

    The initiative will be responsible for "establishing, over the next 15 years, a viable path forward for future high performance computing systems even after the limits of current semiconductor technology are reached (the 'post Moore's Law era')," the executive order stated.

    "The NSCI is a whole-of-government effort designed to create a cohesive, multi-agency strategic vision and federal investment strategy, executed in collaboration with industry and academia, to maximize the benefits of high performance computing for the United States," it said.

    This new focus on supercomputing doesn't come out of left field. Last year, the Department of Energy released a report recommending the creation of the NSCI and suggested that the government spend $3 billion developing an exaflop computer.

    "Computational problems and data centric problems are coming together in areas that range from energy, to climate modeling, to healthcare. This shift dictates the need for a balanced ecosystem for high performance computing with an undergirding infrastructure that supports both computationally-intensive and data centric computing," that report said. "As we move to the era of exascale computing, multiple technologies have to be developed in a complementary way, including hardware, middleware, and applications software."

    There is no timeline for the NSCI to create an exascale computer, however the order requires the NSCI to be set up within 90 days of today and will require the NSCI to release annual reports about its progress, starting one year from today. Exciting times!