The White House is getting serious about supercomputers. Today, President Obama issued an executive order establishing the National Strategic Computing Intiative — essentially a federal strategy for making sure America leads the field in supercomputers. The order points to implementations in medicine, climate science, and aerospace as just some of the early benefits of supercomputing power. The initiative also comes with a striking new promise: within the next 10 years, the government pledges to build an exascale computer, capable of 10^18 operations per second.
It sounds ambitious, but supercomputer experts had already predicted that the US could break the so-called exaflop barrier as early as 2023. The difference now is that the government is committed to making it happen and likely to throw some money behind that promise. The most powerful supercomputers currently in development in the US are the twin Summit and Sierra supercomputers, built by IBM for the Department of Energy and expected to handle 100 petaflops each when completed in 2017.
But breaking the exaflop barrier is more complicated than simply strapping 10 Summits together. Without architectural breakthroughs, a computer that powerful would require an entire power plant's worth of energy to keep going, making it impractical for publicly funded science. The hope for data-crunching scientists is that in the years to come, new architectures will be developed alongside software formats that can make use of all that raw power.