Maximizing Benefits of HPC with the National Strategic Computing Initiative

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SGI CEO Jorge Titinger writes that that White House Executive Order mandates sweeping action to maximize benefits of high-performance computing.

Jorge Titinger, SGI

Jorge Titinger, President & CEO, SGI

I wanted to share with you some extremely exciting news that relates to our industry and our country’s competitiveness. On July 29, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating a new National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), with the goal of maximizing the benefits of HPC for the United States.

This announcement outlines a concerted government effort to develop the first exaflop supercomputer—a machine some 30 times faster than today’s fastest machines. If properly funded and coordinated, the newly created NSCI could be comparable to NASA in the 1960s. Back then, facing a race to space with the Soviet Union, the U.S. government pulled out all the stops in a massive R&D effort to put a man on the moon. I am also excited that this goal of an exascale moonshot is in line with what SGI has been calling our “path to exascale,” with the stated goal of delivering a productive exascale supercomputer by 2020.

This Executive Order is particularly important considering the competition in our industry from countries like China. For example, recently the TOP500 List once again ranked China’s 33.86 petaflop Tianhe-2 as the fastest supercomputer in the world. With this Executive Order, the US government is clearly recognizing the need for a national response to competitiveness challenges in HPC. This “whole-government” effort will create multi-agency strategic vision and Federal investment strategy in high-performance computing (HPC). Furthermore, the White House says this strategy will be executed in collaboration with industry and academia.

The initiative has five specific goals:

  • Create systems that can apply exaflops of computing power to exabytes of data
  • Keep the United States at the forefront of HPC capabilities
  • Improve HPC application developer productivity
  • Make HPC readily available
  • Establish hardware technology for future HPC systems

The relevance of these goals are parallel to SGI’s vision. For example, the first goal clearly relates to our own goals and progress related to exascale. These “big data” systems must scale to enormous data storage and compute capacity, while doing so in an energy efficient way. The NSCI seeks to drive the convergence of compute-intensive and data-intensive systems, while also increasing performance overall. This is our sweet spot.

Backing these goals, the White House has announced an impressive “whole-government” approach to executing on this initiative. The NSCI will have three lead agencies: the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The lead agencies will also work in coordination with two foundational research and development agencies: the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Supporting the objectives of the NSCI to meet a wide variety of needs, the Federal Government will include five deployment agencies: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These agencies may participate in the co-design process to integrate the special requirements of their respective missions and influence the early stages of design of new HPC systems, software, and applications.

Now, what we’re seeing in President Obama’s Executive Order is a major proof point of the importance of high-end computer technology in bolstering and redefining national competitiveness. In the past, a country’s competitiveness and global power was defined by economic growth and defense capabilities. But now we’re seeing the advent of actionable technological insight—especially derived from the power of big data—becoming a factor of a country’s power. SGI is uniquely positioned to be one of the leading contributors to this new HPC initiative, and I hope you share my excitement regarding what is a truly a watershed development for our industry.

I am proud to be a part of the HPC Community and excited for the innovations and how HPC will continue to affect people’s lives in a positive way, whether that means new ways to explore space, predict seismic activity, advance genomic research, or simulate automotive crash testing—this is an exciting time for technology in the U.S.

View the entire White House Executive Order here.

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