Committee Examines Next Generation “Exascale” Supercomputers

May 22, 2013

Washington, D.C. - The Subcommittee on Energy today held a hearing to examine high-performance computing research and development (R&D) challenges and opportunities, specifically as they relate to exascale computing.  Exascale computing refers to systems that would be a thousand times faster than today’s world-leading supercomputers.

Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.): “The development and expanded availability of supercomputers has enabled society to push the frontiers of nearly every scientific discipline and accelerate applications of that science in countless fields.  It has enabled modeling and simulation necessary to address national security needs. It drives the boundaries of medical research, reduces cost to develop new products and improves materials design processes, just to name a few areas.

“As we head down this inevitable path to exascale computing, it is important we take time to plan and budget thoroughly to ensure a balanced approach that ensures broad buy-in from the scientific computing community. The Federal government has limited resources and taxpayer funding must be spent on the most impactful projects. We need to ensure DOE efforts to develop an exascale system can be undertaken in concert with other foundational advanced scientific computing activities.”

Previous federal investments in basic research have provided the foundation for today’s computing technologies and led the push forward in which yesterday’s supercomputers become today’s desktop computers and consumer devices. The greater availability and utilization of these high-speed supercomputers allows increasingly complex scientific research to be achieved.

Witnesses examined draft legislation authored by Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) directing the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop an exascale computing system.

Rep. Hultgren: “Exascale computing represents an exciting new world of science for our nation. The applications for the next generation of super computers are vast; and by solving the challenges in basic science to develop these systems, we will ensure our nation’s long-term innovation and competitiveness.”

Currently, the fastest computer in the world is located at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee.  The U.S. is home to around half of the fastest supercomputers in the world -- others are located in Germany, Japan, China and Italy.  Witnesses today emphasized a number of challenges to overcome in order to develop exascale computing systems.  For example, breakthrough technological advances are needed to reduce power demands of large computing systems, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars per year to operate using current technology.

The following witnesses testified today:
Dr. Roscoe Giles, Chairman, Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee, Professor, Boston University.
Dr. Rick Stevens, Associate Laboratory Director, Computing, Environment and Life Sciences, Argonne National Laboratory.
Ms. Dona Crawford, Associate Director for Computation, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Dr. Daniel Reed, Vice President for Research and Economic Development, University of Iowa.