Exascale computing refers to computing systems capable of at least one exaFLOPS, or a billion billion calculations per second. Such capacity represents a thousandfold increase over the first petascale computer that came into operation in 2008. (One exaflops is a thousand petaflops or a quintillion, 1018, floating point operations per second.) At a supercomputing conference in 2009, Computerworld projected exascale implementation by 2018.
Exascale computing would be considered as a significant achievement in computer engineering, for it is believed to be the order of processing power of the human brain at neural level (functional might be lower). It is, for instance, the target power of the Human Brain Project.
The initiative has been endorsed by two US agencies: the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration, both of which are part of the US Department of Energy. The technology would be useful in various computation-intensive research areas, including basic research, engineering, earth science, biology, materials science, energy issues, and national security.
The United States has put aside $126 million for exascale computing beginning in 2012.
Three projects aiming at developing technologies and software for exascale computing have been started in 2011 within the European Union. The CRESTA project (Collaborative Research into Exascale Systemware, Tools and Applications), the DEEP project (Dynamical ExaScale Entry Platform), and the project Mont-Blanc.
The Scalable, Energy-Efficient, Resilient and Transparent Software Adaptation (SERT) project, a major research project between the University of Manchester and the STFC Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, has been awarded almost £1million from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The SERT project was due to start in March 2015. It will be funded by EPSRC under the Software for the Future II programme, and the project will partner with the Numerical Analysis Group (NAG), Cluster Vision and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
In February 2013 the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity started Cryogenic Computer Complexity (C3) program which envisions a new generation of superconducting supercomputers that operate at exascale speeds based on Superconducting logic. In December 2014 it announced a multi-year contract with International Business Machines, Raytheon BBN Technologies and Northrop Grumman to develop the technologies for C3 program.
On 29 July 2015, President Obama signed an executive order creating a National Strategic Computing Initiative calling for the accelerated development of an exascale system and funding research into post-semiconductor computing.
It has been recognized that enabling applications to fully exploit capabilities of Exascale computing systems is not straightforward. In fact, in June 2014, the stagnation of the Top500 supercomputer list had observers question the possibility of exascale systems by 2020.
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