The dawn of the exascale computer has arrived. In May 2022, a computer named Frontier was switched on at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA. At well over twice the computing power of the previous world record holder, it has ushered in a new era of supercomputers, with at least two more to follow in the coming months and years.
In this episode, we’ll be looking at why this undeniably impressive milestone actually means, and more importantly, why it matters. We’ll also be looking at some of the challenges remaining as we enter the exascale era – namely, how do we actually use computers at this scale?
We’re joined in this episode by Mike Woodacre, Chief Technologist at HPE. He starts by spelling out some of the core statistics underpinning the Frontier exascale computer and its 60 million parts, as well as some of the challenges endemic to computing at the cutting edge of technology.
We also meet Doug Kothe, former Director of the Exascale Computing Project at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He’s hugely excited about the possibilities of exascale as a source of incredible compute in-depth with the ability to return answers to complex questions and simulations in almost real-time. At the same time, he’s also keen to use Frontier as a gateway to open up HPC and supercomputing to more and more organizations, via an ‘app store’ which allows potentially thousands of users simultaneous access to Frontier for their own needs.
For different reasons, Professor Rick Stevens is also excited to be entering the exascale age. He’s Argonne National Laboratory’s Associate Laboratory Director for Computing, Environment and Life Sciences. He’s keen to put their upcoming Aurora exascale computer to work on projects to revolutionise cancer treatments, from diagnostics to drug discovery, through his CANDLE program. Rick’s also cautious, though. Whilst he appreciates the promise that exascale offers, he knows that it’s not an end-goal, but a stepping stone to the next generation and new technological advances.
That’s a sentiment shared by our final guest, Cristin Merritt. She’s the Chief Marketing Officer at Alces Flight, an HPC solutions provider. She’s keenly across worldwide demand for supercomputing power, and sees an evolving landscape of commercial demand and supply growing out of the innovations that exascale offers. She’s cautious, though – right now, exascale is too experimental and non-standard to be commercially mass-market. With time, though, she believes that might just change.
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