White House executive order accelerates use of high-performance computing

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The White House announced Wednesday an initiative aimed at greatly accelerating the nation’s research and deployment of high-performance computing.

An executive order issued by President Barack Obama establishes the formation of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), a multi-agency effort designed to maximize the benefits of high-performance and exascale computing in the areas of science discovery and economic competitiveness.

“Maximizing the benefits of [high-performance computing] in the coming decades will require an effective national response to increasing demands for computing power, emerging technological challenges and opportunities, and growing economic dependency on and competition with other nations,” Obama wrote in an executive order “This national response will require a cohesive, strategic effort within the federal government and a close collaboration between the public and private sectors.”

The initiative will focus on accelerating delivery of an exascale computing system that delivers “approximately 100 times the performance of current 10 petaFLOP systems,” which will further the use of simulation and data analytic models. The order calls for researchers to find a way over the next 15 years to move exascale systems forward even after the limit’s of Moore’s Law are reached.

A host of agencies will be involved in the NSCI. The order establishes the Defense Department, Energy Department and National Science Foundation as leads, tasked with the various scientific development work. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will contribute additional research, studying future computing standards, including alternatives to semiconductors.

Five agencies will be used as “deployment agencies” to design specific requirements as development evolves: NASA, FBI, National Institutes of Health, Department of Homeland Security and National Oceanic Administration.

These five agencies will test various systems, software and applications related to each individual agency mission.

The order also establishes an executive council, made up representatives from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy, that will oversee the initiative’s progress. That council will establish a governance plan over the next 90 days, and meet no less than twice per year to assess the program’s process.

The United States has been battling China in creating the world’s most powerful computers for the past few years. Since 2013, China Tinahe-2 supercomputer has led the TOP 500, a twice-yearly measure of the world’s most powerful computers. Operating at 33.86 petaFLOPS (quadrillions of calculations per second), Tinahe-2’s power nearly doubles the closest machine, the Titan supercomputer at the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Over the past few months, Energy has announced three contracts for new supercomputers. In November, the department announced the Summit and Sierra supercomputers, which will both operate in excess of 100 petaFLOPS. In April, the department announced Aurora, which will be 18 times faster than its predecessor, operating at 180 petaFLOPS.

Read Obama’s executive order below.

Update 7.30.15: A previous version of this story listed the Summit and Sierra supercomputer power as 17.58 petaFLOPS and 16.32 petaFLOPS respectively. Those measurements are the power levels for the current Titan and Sequoia computers.

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Agencies, Departments, Energy Department, Government IT News, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, White House
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