Oak Ridge National Laboratory is so keen on making sure it remains on the top of the supercomputer charts that it’s announced its next one, coming in 2021. The fact we’re hearing about this one already is pretty surprising, since we only learned of the launch of ORNL’s Summit supercomputer last summer. Before that, it had been six years since the announcement of TITAN, which at the time replaced the aging (but continually updated) Jaguar. Next up? Frontier. If the name rings an AMD bell, there might be something to that.
Summit is currently the highest-performing supercomputer in the world, delivering about 200 peak petaflops, or in other words, 0.2 exaflops. For context, the TITAN supercomputer still in operation peaks at 0.02 exaflops. Keeping that in mind, try to picture one that’s more than 7x faster.
Summit used IBM Power CPUs along with NVIDIA Volta GPUs, but Frontier is going in a completely different direction, focusing instead on AMD’s EPYC CPUs, along with AMD’s Radeon Instinct GPUs – all packaged up by Cray. If this sounds like a big win for AMD, it absolutely is. In fact, it could be a critical one. We’re not just looking at massive EPYC adoption, but server-based Radeon, too.
The rating of 1.5 exaflops could prove to be generous, but even if Frontier were to fall well short of that mark, it’d still be set to be an incredible leap over Summit. But crucially, it’d become one of the first exascale supercomputers, giving AMD some true gloating power – especially since it’ll topple the NVIDIA-infused Summit. “Poor Volta”? If China has its way, the Tianhe-3 supercomputer, launching next year, will jump ahead of AMD to represent the first exascale deployment.
When it launches, Frontier will be used for many things AI-related, including weather modeling, analyzing sub-atomic structures, physics, and other key scientific research. It’s not clear at this point which AMD device SKUs will be used in Frontier, but it seems highly likely that it will be some forthcoming product. AMD is allegedly going to be launching Navi this summer, so if it does, that could give us a hint of what will come.
All we can say is “Whoa”. Exascale computing is no joke. It’d be great to see AMD buck expectations and sit itself at the top of the supercomputing charts. Success there should only mean good things for the company’s future product development.