The senator’s view of the Summit

alexandersummitU.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in a recent news release announcing the Senate’s passage of FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, said something he’s fond of saying.

“Once again, the world’s fastest supercomputer will be at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Tennessee’s senior senator (and chief architect of the appropriations bill) was quoted as saying.

The Senate bill includes $1.32 billion for advanced computing, and that includes money for “Summit,” a supercomputer currently under development by IBM, NVIDIA and others. Summit will be delivered to ORNL over the next couple of years. Depending on how much funding is available, the contract calls for IBM to provide a supercomputer with a capability somewhere between 150 and 300 petaflops. That means it could be able to do up to 300 million billion calculations per second.

That is pretty amazing stuff, but of course there is no guarantee that the ORNL-bound machine will be the world’s fastest supercomputer. Because other countries, such as China and Japan, are also engaged in the race to exascale and are anxious to claim or reclaim leadership in a competitive environment that can change rapidly and dramatically.

During a recent interview, I asked Buddy Bland, director of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility at ORNL, about the future and Alexander’s comments, and he acknowledged there is some uncertainty about who’ll be No. 1 a year or two from now.

However, making an apparent reference to Alexander’s seat at the head of the powerful Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which sets funding for big projects, Bland offered this perspective:

“What I say is there is only one person in the world who can actually say that and that’s probably Senator Alexander.”

A feature on Atomic City Underground allows readers to sign up for email updates and receive a notice each time new information is posted. Just put your email address in the box on the lower right of the blog’s front page and follow instructions. Thanks to all loyal readers.

This entry was posted in ORNL, Science, Supercomputing on by .

About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.