US government builds exascale supercomputer for nuclear security service

The US Department of Energy has allocated $600 million to build a third exascale supercomputer. Cray will build the supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the US nuclear arsenal.

The new supercomputer cluster will be called El Capitan and can deliver a sustained computing power of 1.5 exaflops, according to the US Department. The system should be completed by the end of 2022. Cray will build the supercomputer on its Shasta platform, with each compute blade consisting of four nodes. It is not yet known what hardware will be included and how many blades the exascale cluster will consist of. Presumably it concerns hardware that is not yet available and has not yet been announced.

Cray already has two other contracts from the US Department of Energy to build exascale supercomputers for scientific research. It concerns the Aurora with Intel hardware and the Frontier with AMD hardware. The Aurora consists of Xeon processors, Optane memory and Intel Xe GPUs and will have a computing power of one exaflops. Epyc processors and Radeon accelerators will be placed in the Frontier and the cluster must be good for a processing power of 1.5 exaflops. So that system appears to be as fast as the El Capitan supercomputer, but for that new cluster it is specifically stated that the computing power of 1.5 exaflops can be delivered continuously and that the peak performance is even higher.

The three systems that Cray is building for the US government are worth a total of $1.5 billion. All three clusters use Shasta platform that uses Cray-developed Slingshot interconnect for interconnections. Cray also announced on Tuesday that it is developing a new software platform for its exascale clusters.

El Capitan is being made for the NNSA, the unit of the US Department of Energy that is responsible for all nuclear weapons in the country and the propulsion of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. The national nuclear security service says it will use the computing power for research into the maintenance of the current nuclear weapons arsenal.

The upcoming exascale computers offer computing power of at least one exaflops, or 1018 floating operations per second. This makes them much faster than the current supercomputers in use. Currently, the US Department of Energy’s IBM Summit system is the fastest supercomputer with performance of 143.5 petaflops and a peak of 200.8 petaflops. China has set the goal of having an exascale supercomputer ready by 2020 and would like to use its own processors for this. Details about the construction of Tianhe-3 appeared in May.