Outlook good for exascale

15 June 2017

Reaching the exascale has been a focus of the HPC community for several years, and EPCC has been a key player from the beginning.

In 2008, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the US Department of Defense) published a report on the technology challenges of achieving exascale computing systems. In 2014, another report by the US Department of Energy described the top ten exascale system research challenges that still needed to be tackled, including energy efficiency, memory technology, programming systems and data management. 

The first report predicted that exascale systems might be available from around 2015; as we were approaching that date, 2018 was beginning to emerge as the more likely timeframe. Today, it is widely accepted that 2020 (or more likely even 2022) are feasible timescales in which a usable exascale system will come online.

EPCC and exascale

What is EPCC’s role in this effort? We have always been at the cutting edge of HPC research, and when it comes to the exascale research effort, this is no different. 

A couple of years ago, the European Commission issued a call for projects to address the core exascale research challenges. EPCC took this opportunity and is involved in three such projects (leading two of them), each with a different focus:

• NEXTGenIO, which is led by EPCC, looks at the impact of emerging non-volatile memory technologies on total system performance, with a particular focus on applications that rely on large amounts of data to be read or written either to storage or memory. NEXTGenIO’s use cases come from both a traditional HPC background (such as weather forecasting or computational chemistry), as well as targeting more novel HPC applications (such as machine learning or genomics).

• INTERTWinE is also led by EPCC, and focuses on improving the interoperability of popular parallel programming models. The aim is to allow programmers to choose (and mix) programming models that meet their needs, without sacrificing either productivity or performance.

• ExaFLOW investigates novel methods and numerical algorithms to optimise the performance and scalability of computational fluid dynamics applications. EPCC’s focus in this project is on efficiency, both in terms of performance and power/energy.

In addition to these projects, we are also involved with two Centres of Excellence (CoE), which concentrate less on pure research and more on preparing end users and their applications for the exascale: 

• BioExcel CoE supports both academia and industry in the use of HPC in biomolecular research.

• CompBioMed CoE works with the biomedical modelling community.

Now halfway through their lifetimes, the work on these projects is progressing well and EPCC remains an established leader in the world of HPC. But we won’t be resting on our laurels, so watch this space!