U.S. efforts to build next-gen supercomputer take shape

For decades, the U.S. took for granted the doubling of supercomputing power every 10 years, roughly in line with Moore’s Law. But once a petascale system was reached in 2008, it gradually became clear that the next leap — a system 1,000 times more powerful — would be difficult.

Initially, some believed such a system — an exascale computer — was possible in 10 years, or by 2018. But problems emerged. It took too much power, and it required new approaches to applications to utilize an almost unimaginable level of parallelism involving hundreds of millions of cores. Another problem to solve was the need for resilience, or an ability to continue to working around multiple ongoing hardware failures expected in a system of this size.

The new deadline is 2023, or 15 years after reaching petascale. An exaflop is a million trillion calculations per second (one quintillion). That is 1,000 times faster than a petaflop.

In other words, the government is aiming for a system that can solve science problems 50 times faster than the 20-petaflop systems now available.