U.S. Reveals Details of $500 Million Supercomputer
SAN FRANCISCO ― The Department of Energy disclosed details on Monday of one of the most expensive computers being built: a $500 million machine based on Intel and Cray technology that may become crucial in a high-stakes technology race between the United States and China.
The supercomputer, called Aurora, is a retooling of a development effort first announced in 2015 and is scheduled to be delivered to the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago in 2021. Lab officials predict it will be the first American machine to reach a milestone called “exascale” performance, surpassing a quintillion calculations per second.
这台超级计算机名为“极光”(Aurora)，是对2015年首次公布的一个研发项目进行重新装配，预计将于2021年交付给芝加哥附近的阿贡国家实验室(Argonne National Laboratory)。实验室官员预测，它将成为首台达到“百亿亿次”级别（下称E级）的美国计算机，每秒运算速度超过百亿亿次。
That’s roughly seven times the speed rating of the most powerful system built to date, or 1,000 times faster than the first “petascale” systems that began arriving in 2008. Backers hope the new machines will let researchers create significantly more accurate simulations of phenomena such as drug responses, climate changes, the inner workings of combustion engines and solar panels.
Supercomputers, which play a major role in tasks such as weapons design and code-breaking, have long been considered a proxy for national competitiveness in science and technology. The United States led the field for decades, but China has become an aggressive rival.
An IBM system called Summit, built for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, took back the No. 1 position last year on a twice-yearly ranking of the world’s 500 most powerful systems ― a spot held by China for five years. But China leads by another key measure: It accounted for 227 systems on the Top 500 list, compared with 109 for the United States.
去年，在两年一次的计算机系统世界500强排行榜上，为田纳西州橡树岭国家实验室(Oak Ridge National Laboratory)建造的IBM系统巅峰(Summit)夺回了第一名的位置。但中国却在另一关键指标上领先：500强清单上中国占据227个系统，美国则为109个。
Aurora ― which is also designed to exploit new advances in the field of artificial intelligence, including machine learning techniques pushed lately by the likes of Google and Facebook ― may not crack the new speed barrier first. Jack Dongarra, a computer scientist at the University of Tennessee who monitors global developments, is tracking plans for three systems in China that are scheduled to be delivered in 2020 with exascale performance.
“极光”的设计意在利用人工智能领域的最新成果，包括近来由谷歌和Facebook一类公司推动的机器学习技术。它有可能不是首个突破新速度壁垒的系统。监测全球研发动态的田纳西大学(University of Tennessee)计算机科学家杰克・唐加拉(Jack Dongarra)正在跟踪中国定于2020年交付、达到E级性能的三个系统的计划。
In addition, Mr. Dongarra said, the Energy Department is expected to follow Aurora with exascale class systems at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, near San Francisco.
此外，唐加拉称，继“极光”之后，能源部预计还将在橡树岭国家实验室和旧金山附近的劳伦斯利弗莫尔国家实验室(Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)推出E级系统。
Supercomputer speeds are not usually discussed much until machines run standard performance tests. But the stakes associated with the shift to exascale systems, and their enormous price tags, have attracted outsize attention. The energy secretary, Rick Perry, who took part in the event discussing Aurora on Monday, announced a plan last year to spend up to $1.8 billion on two to three exascale systems.
Aurora, which far exceeds the $200 million price for Summit, represents a record government contract for Intel and a test of its continued leadership in supercomputers. The Silicon Valley giant’s popular processors ― the calculating engine for nearly all personal computers and server systems ― power most such machines. But additional accelerator chips are considered essential to reach the very highest speeds, and its rival Nvidia has built a sizable business adapting chips first used with video games for use in supercomputers.
The version of Aurora announced in 2015 was based on an Intel accelerator chip that the company later discontinued. A revised plan to seek more ambitious performance targets was announced two years later.
Features discussed on Monday include unreleased Intel accelerator chips, a version of its standard Xeon processor, new memory and communications technology and a design that packages chips on top of one another to save space and power.
Cray, a longtime supercomputer maker, is providing a system design called Shasta, as well as technology to speed the flow of data inside Aurora, said Peter J. Ungaro, the company’s chief executive. Intel and Cray are also supplying new software to make advanced supercomputers easier to program.
据老牌超级计算机制造商克雷的首席执行官彼得・J・恩家罗(Peter J. Ungaro)称，公司正在交付一项名为“沙士达”(Shasta)的系统设计，以及加快“极光”内部数据流动速度的技术。英特尔和克雷还在供应新的软件，以使高级超级计算机的编程变得更简单。
“We want to make exascale computing available to everyone,” said Raja M. Koduri, senior vice president of Intel’s core and visual computing group.
“我们想让每个人都能获得E级运算，”英特尔核心和可视计算集团高级副总裁拉贾・克杜里(Raja M. Koduri)说。
Rick L. Stevens, an associate laboratory director at Argonne, acknowledged that Aurora represented a gamble on a collection of new technologies.
阿贡实验室副主任里克・L・史蒂文斯(Rick L. Stevens)坦言，“极光”代表着在一批新技术上的赌博。
“We have to take risks in order to advance the state of the art,” he said. “If you don’t do that, you won’t be on the leading edge of technology.”