The Exa-scale Supercomputer of 2020

In the past year, Intel has launched three new research centers focused on different aspects of the same challenge: developing supercomputers with Exa-scale performance levels. That means a billion billion computations per second. To put that in context, if you had all ~6.9 billion people on earth scribbling out math problems at a rate of one per second, it would still take over four and a half years to calculate what an Exa-scale supercomputer could do in a single second. Exa-scale was the hot topic this week at the Intel European Research and Innovation Conference, and according to Prof. Thomas Lippert, director of the Jülich Supercomputing Center in Germany, these massive systems could arrive by the end of this decade.

Intel Sr. Fellow Steve Pawlowski, head of Central Architecture and Planning, predicted that demand for high performance computing will continue to rise, driven by computationally intensive tasks such as analyzing the human genome and the creation of climate models that can accurately predict weather patterns. But he emphasized that Exa-scale levels of performance can’t be achieved with today’s techniques, so new technologies must be developed. Pawlowski identified several major challenges facing Exa-scale researchers: energy-efficiency, parallelization, reliability, memory, storage capacity and bandwidth. Moreover, he said that it is important that hardware and software be woven together with a unified programming model.

Meeting these challenges will require a modular, cluster-based design that is both scalable and resilient, according to Prof. Lippert. He noted that the JUROPA supercomputer at his center in Jülich, currently the14th fastest computer in the world, consists of a cluster of about 15,000 processor cores. He predicted that a future exa-scale systems could be comprised of as many as 10 million cores – a major challenge in terms of power consumption and data communication amongst all the cores.

To achieve all of this, Intel has invested in collaborations with institutions that specialize in high performance computing. Three Intel labs, all members of the Intel Labs Europe network, now exclusively focus on Exa-scale computing research. These include the EXACluster Laboratory in Jülich, Germany (which collaborates closely with Prof. Lippert’s center), the Exascale Computing Research Center in Paris, France and the ExaScience Lab in Leuven, Belgium.

At the same time, researchers are hard work developing technologies for the future many-core microprocessors that will one day be at the heart of these clusters. For more on that – see my blog earlier this week on the Many-core Applications Research Community.

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