White House Plans To Ramp Up US Supercomputer Capabilities


China's Tianhe-2 is the world's faster computer running at 33.86 petaflops, which means that it can perform 33.86 quadrillion floating point operations in one second. It appears though that President Barack Obama is not happy that U.S. only plays the second fiddle in the field of supercomputers.

On Wednesday, Obama showed just how serious the White House is about supercomputers by issuing an executive order that establishes the National Strategic Computer Initiative (NSCI), a research initiative that aims to develop the first exaflop supercomputer.

Such a powerful supercomputer would be about 30 times faster compared with the fastest machine that exists today and is capable of making a quintillion calculations per second.

The computer could perform complex simulation and help in scientific research. It may also help in analyzing weather data so there would be more accurate forecasts as well as assist in the diagnoses of cancer by analyzing X-ray images.

It could also allow scientists to model turbulence which could pave way for the design of more streamlined aircraft that does not require extensive wind tunnel testing.

 "Current technology can only handle simplified models of the airflow around a wing and under limited flight conditions," reads a post on the White House website. "A recent study commissioned by NASA determined that machines able to sustain exaflop-level performance could incorporate full modeling of turbulence, as well as more dynamic flight conditions, in their simulations."

The federal strategy would help ensure that the U.S. becomes the leader in the field of supercomputers. Earlier this month, the TOP500, which ranks supercomputers by performance still named China's Tianhe-2 as the fastest in the world and while the U.S. has more entries on the list than any other country, there were concerns about U.S. falling behind China.

The goal may seem ambitious because breaking the exaflop barrier can be very complicated. Such a powerful computer would need the energy of an entire power plant to keep working in the absence of architectural breakthroughs.

Experts though have already predicted that the U.S. would be able to break the exaflop barrier as early as the year 2023. With NSCI, the government has shown that it is committed to making this happen and will likely allot a budget for this.

"Maximizing the benefits of HPC (high performance computing) in the coming decades will require an effective national response to increasing demands for computing power, emerging technological challenges and opportunities, and growing economic dependency on and competition with other nations," the executive order reads.

Obama did not announce a timeline for the creation of the supercomputer albeit the Department of Energy has revealed of plans to build and deliver exascale computers by 2023 or 2024.

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr

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