Friday, June 16th 2017

Exascale Supercomputer Technology Buoyed by $258M Grant by US Dept. of Energy

Developing supercomputers isn't for the faint of heart. Much less it is for those that are looking for fast development and deployment time-frames. And as such, even as the world's supercomputers are getting increasingly faster and exorbitantly expensive to develop and deploy, players who want to stay ahead have to think ahead as well. To this end, the US Department of Energy has awarded a total of $258M in research contracts to six of the US's foremost tech companies to accelerate the development of Exascale Supercomputer technologies (AMD, Cray, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Intel, and NVIDIA.) These companies will be working over a three year contract period, and will have to support at least 40% of the project cost - to help develop the technologies needed to build an exascale computer for 2021. It isn't strange that the companies accepted the grant and jumped at the opportunity: 60% savings in research and development they'd have to do for themselves is nothing to scoff at.

Supercomputers birthed from the project are expected to be in the exaFLOPS scale of computing performance, which is around 50 times more processing power than the generation of supercomputers being installed now. Since traditional supercomputing knowledge and materials are known to falter at the objective level of exaFLOPS performance, the PathForward program - which looks to ensure achievement of such systems in a timely fashion to ensure US leadership in the field of supercomputing - will need to see spurred research and development, which the $258M grant is looking out to do.
The DOE's Exascale Supercomputer Technology program looks to spur development in three areas: hardware, software, and application development. To this end, the involved companies are expected to play to their strengths: Cray and IBM will work on system-level challenges; HPE is to further develop their Memory-Driven Computing architecture (centered around byte-addressable non-volatile memory and new memory fabrics.); and Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA are all working on processing technology for the project (both traditional CPU and GPU acceleration,) along with I/O technology in the case of the former two.
The research - and actual development and deployment of an exascale computer - will take years to accomplish, but it's in the best interest of all the companies involved that this happens sooner rather than later. The US, for one, would very much like to recoup its lost standing as having the world's most powerful supercomputers - China has surpassed the stars and stripes in that regard, with their Titan supercomputers, which have taken the top two spots in the latest Top 500 list. China further has its own plans to build an exascale computer for 2020.
It's expected that exascale designs will carry on with the latest design paradigms of making heavy use of GPUs and wide processors in general; however, software will also be a huge part of the development effort, in making sure that there are performative ways of scaling workloads to what will forcibly be extremely wide designs. Storage memory and interconnect technologies will also be increasingly important in this kind of supercomputers, since a wide enough design will forcibly need to keep all computational resources fed with relevant information to tackle and to share. It's going to be a wild ride until then. Three years may look like a lot, but really, just put into perspective the increasing performance levels of our computer systems as of late. We've broken through the scale already now is time for the exa effort.

Source: ExascaleProject.org, ExascaleProject.org, part 2, AnandTech
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9 Comments on Exascale Supercomputer Technology Buoyed by $258M Grant by US Dept. of Energy

#1
FordGT90Concept
"I go fast!1!11!1!"
Petascale was, what, like 3 years ago? I know why DoE is doing it: China is climbing the super computer ladder fast.

Frankly, I'm sad that money isn't going to fusion research.
Posted on Reply
#2
Prima.Vera
FordGT90Concept said:
Petascale was, what, like 3 years ago? I know why DoE is doing it: China is climbing the super computer ladder fast.

Frankly, I'm sad that money isn't going to fusion research.
Fusion is vaporware my friend. Just like Cold Fusion. Currently there are no known combinations of force fields and materials able to withstand the heat output and deliver enough pressure to make this a viable solution.
Posted on Reply
#3
Frick
Fishfaced Nincompoop
Prima.Vera said:
Fusion is vaporware my friend. Just like Cold Fusion. Currently there are no known combinations of force fields and materials able to withstand the heat output and deliver enough pressure to make this a viable solution.
That is "just" a physics and engineering problem but it will not matter as it will not be economical anyway, at least not for a very very long while, if ever. And even if the technological issues is ironed out by then I doubt we will not have solved - to a more or less practical extent anyway - energy storage, which is important to the very economically sound wind and solar power. Off topic.

Super computers are always fun.
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#4
FordGT90Concept
"I go fast!1!11!1!"
US Fusion Funding: A Call For Change
With old efforts over-budget and under preforming, what can the US government do to support new ideas? Plenty. (1) First, the US should reevaluate its’ involvement in ITER. Especially next year when the ten year treaty is up for re-negotiations [16]. ITER is not on a path to commercial fusion power. Moreover by its very existence, it kills better ideas. (2) Second, we need to better educate the public, students and policy makers about fusion. A huge body of peer review data lies dormant in the journals – you cannot just Google it. What results is bad decisions based on a sheer lack of information. This is a fundamental challenge for the entire field and our efforts to solve the problem have been insufficient. An unbiased organization should be set up to educate the public. They can set up websites, write articles, connect with schools and make educational films. (3) Third, I agree with others in the fusion community who have called for leadership changes at the office of Fusion Energy Sciences. Dr. Synakowski and his staff must go. The new leader should be someone, sufficiently different to open the agency up. (4) Finally, there needs to be a major overhaul in funding. The recent ARPA-E program for 30 million was a step in the right direction [18]. But, this program was aimed at magnetized target fusion and not really set up to handle ideas like polywells, dynomaks or field reversed configurations. These changes will go far in moving research forward. We cannot wait fifty years for fusion power. Climate change is happening now. We need to get moving.
Why It’s Taking The U.S. So Long To Make Fusion Energy Work

This one super computer is going to get almost as much funding as fusion research gets in a year.


Fusion isn't going to happen without a Manhattan Project level of commitment to it. All of the theories need to be tested in parallel with dialog between teams detailing what does and doesn't work. With enough perseverance and resources, it will be viable.

The ironic thing is that super computers can help with solving problems related to fusion power but should this exascale supercomputer get built, very little of its time will be dedicated to fusion.

Why? Coal, oil, and natural gas interests run deep in Washington/DoE.

Industry Tap isn't wrong on point #2: the pro "green" people need to be motivated to lobby for fusion research. Washington, as a whole, needs to make it a #1 priority. The benefits are numerous, just like the Manhattan Project (advancements in materials, magnets, lasers, lots of jobs, and so on).


By the way, wind and solar is not economically sound. USA recently broke a record for producing just 10% of the grid from those sources (8% wind, 2% solar) and the only reason why that happened is because the government is paying out millions in subsidies to make them economically viable. That money should go to fusion research because unlike wind/solar, fusion energy pays astronomical dividends. Once fusion works, energy will become almost free.
Posted on Reply
#5
rruff
FordGT90Concept said:
Fusion isn't going to happen without a Manhattan Project level of commitment to it. All of the theories need to be tested in parallel with dialog between teams detailing what does and doesn't work. With enough perseverance and resources, it will be viable..... Once fusion works, energy will become almost free.
Per your chart they spent a lot of money in the late 70s to 80s and learned a lot from their failures; ie it ain't happening. Not every problem can be solved by throwing money at it. Physics (reality) often intervenes.

Even if fusion worked it would not be remotely free. That's simply ridiculous. They said the same thing about fission and how did that turn out? The investment in the hardware would be immense.

Back to the topic. I understand why there is a lot of interest in pushing the thresholds of computing. AI. But why the hell is the DOE funding this?
Posted on Reply
#6
Frick
Fishfaced Nincompoop
Some more off topic: The US might not work on fusion much, but others do, and so far everything is sooooo very very difficult and super expensive, and everything related to it will continue to be expensive. There's no such thing as free. Well wind and sunlight is actually free though, and waves too. Even if the US did a Manhattan Project of fusion solar and wind would still be developed and the cost for them would still go down while Tesla and others would just keep on building and improving them batteries, so if there was indeed a breakthrough in fusion ... everything else would have move forward as well.

Here's a paper by some europeans. I haven't read the entire thing, but the abstract is interesting:
It is almost certain that nuclear fusion will not play a role in this transition as the necessary structural changes must be performed predominantly in this and in the next decade. In 2050 this transition will be almost completed. It is generally agreed that nuclear fusion can not play a role at least until 2050, 2060 or even later – if at all, as too many uncertainties and problems still must be solved, some of them being “no-go” criteria for the whole concept
It also mentions how fusion require vast amounts of materials much needed elsewhere.

Basically, this dude has it pretty much nailed down. I mean it would be amazing if it existed, but it would not be free in any case, and what is free again and is so cheap everyone is into it and is very popular even in popular culture? Solar. Fusion might be a thing some day (stellarator engine sounds way to cool to not make), but for electricity generation it's probably not worth it.
Posted on Reply
#7
FordGT90Concept
"I go fast!1!11!1!"
rruff said:
Per your chart they spent a lot of money in the late 70s to 80s and learned a lot from their failures; ie it ain't happening. Not every problem can be solved by throwing money at it. Physics (reality) often intervenes.
It spiked because of the 1973 oil crisis. It fell off because of the wholly unrelated 1979 Three Mile Island accident. Chernobyl accident in 1986 cemented "fusion never" levels of funding.

I don't know one physicist that says it is impossible. I actually know one that says we're going about it entirely wrong and we need to figure out the reaction chains first to get clean fusion.

rruff said:
Even if fusion worked it would not be remotely free. That's simply ridiculous. They said the same thing about fission and how did that turn out? The investment in the hardware would be immense.
The fuel costs next to nothing and since there's not much in the way of moving parts except the steam-electric system, maintenance is also low.

Fission suffers the same problem as nuclear: there's a lot of fantastic ideas that solve most problems (bed reactors, thorium reactors, breeder reactors, and so on) with fission power generation but they're not being developed for commercial use for the same reason fusion isn't. The designs being used today aren't very different from those built 50-60 years ago.

rruff said:
Back to the topic. I understand why there is a lot of interest in pushing the thresholds of computing. AI. But why the hell is the DOE funding this?
Because one of their primary goals is maintaining USA's nuclear weapons. Pretty much all the top super computers in the USA had that goal when constructed. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Frick said:
Some more off topic: The US might not work on fusion much, but others do, and so far everything is sooooo very very difficult and super expensive, and everything related to it will continue to be expensive. There's no such thing as free. Well wind and sunlight is actually free though, and waves too. Even if the US did a Manhattan Project of fusion solar and wind would still be developed and the cost for them would still go down while Tesla and others would just keep on building and improving them batteries, so if there was indeed a breakthrough in fusion ... everything else would have move forward as well.
Here's a paper by some europeans. I haven't read the entire thing, but the abstract is interesting:

It also mentions how fusion require vast amounts of materials much needed elsewhere.
Basically, this dude has it pretty much nailed down. I mean it would be amazing if it existed, but it would not be free in any case, and what is free again and is so cheap everyone is into it and is very popular even in popular culture? Solar. Fusion might be a thing some day (stellarator engine sounds way to cool to not make), but for electricity generation it's probably not worth it.
"This dude" (Maury Markowitz) works for AP Solar and InPhase Power, companies that design and sell inverters for solar panel installations. If fusion takes off, he's out of work. Not exactly a good source.

Let me remind you of Castle Bravo: 400 lbs of lithium-deuterium produced 63 petajoules of energy in a fraction of a second.

We don't need to rely so heavily on the sun when we can put a star in a bottle here on Earth.
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#8
Prima.Vera
Why not build a 1 billion $ quantum Super Computer and use it to calculate and design a viable solution for a workable Fusion Reactor?
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