Home Front Page U.S. spy agencies launch effort to develop super-powerful exascale computers

U.S. spy agencies launch effort to develop super-powerful exascale computers

The U.S. intelligence community has awarded contracts to three major technology companies for development of a new generation of super-computers, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) announced Wednesday.

The winners of the contracts are Northrup Grummon Corp., Raytheon BBN Technologies, and International Business Machines Corp. No financial details were disclosed.

In November, Advanced Micro Devices also was awarded a more than $32 million contract for exascale computing research by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The project, known as the Cryogenic Computer Complexity (C3) program, could pave the way for a whole new generation of exascale supercomputers, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Exascale computing refers to systems capable of at least a billion billion calculations per second, or one exaFLOP. This level of processing is thought to be close to the processing power of the human brain.

Competition from Europe, Japan, and China, which has the fastest computer on the planet, is a major motivating factor for the development of exascale computing. A huge obstacle to exascale computing, however, has been the massive amounts of energy it consumes.

“The energy demands of today’s high-performance computers have become a critical challenge for the Intelligence Community that the C3 program aims to address,” said IARPA in a statement.

According to Marc Manheimer, C3 program manager at IARPA, “Computers based on superconducting logic integrated with new kinds of cryogenic memory will allow expansion of current computing facilities while staying within space and energy budgets.” This, he says, may allow supercomputer development even beyond the exascale.

In Japan, the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science intends to build an exascale computing system by 2020 that will use less than 30 megawatts of power, according to a report by Computer World.