Late last year the United States Department of Energy kicked off the awards phase of their CORAL supercomputer upgrade project, which would see three of the DoE’s biggest national laboratories receive new supercomputers for their ongoing research work. The first two supercomputers, Summit and Sierra, were awarded to the IBM/NVIDIA duo for Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory respectively. Following up on that, the final part of the CORAL program is being awarded today, with Intel and Cray receiving orders to build 2 new supercomputers for Argonne National Laboratory.

The flagship of these two computers is Aurora, a next-generation Cray “Shasta” supercomputer that is scheduled for delivery in 2018. Designed to deliver 180 PetaFLOPS of peak compute performance, Aurora will be heavily leveraging Intel’s suite of HPC technologies. Primarily powered by a future version of Intel’s Xeon Phi accelerators – likely the 10nm-fabbed Knights Hill – Aurora will be combining the Xeon Phi with Intel’s Xeon CPUs (Update: Intel has clarified that the Xeons are for management purposes only), an unnamed Intel developed non-volatile memory solution, and Intel’s high-speed and silicon photonics-driven Omni-Path interconnect technology. Going forward, Intel is calling this future setup their HPC scalable system framework.

At 180 PFLOPS of performance, Aurora will be in the running for what will be the world’s fastest supercomputer. Whether it actually takes the crown will depend on where exactly ORNL’s Summit supercomputer ends up – it’s spec’d for between 150 PFLOPS and 300 PFLOPS – with Aurora exceeding the minimum bounds of that estimate. All told this makes Aurora 18 times faster than its predecessor, the 10 PFLOPS Mira supercomputer. Meanwhile Aurora’s peak power consumption of 13MW is also 2.7 times Mira’s, which works out to an overall increase in energy efficiency of 6.67x.

US Department of Energy CORAL Supercomputers
  Aurora Theta Summit Sierra
CPU Architecture Intel Xeon
(Management Only)
Intel Xeon
(Management Only)
Accelerator Architecture Intel Xeon Phi (Knights Hill?) Intel Xeon Phi (Knights Landing) NVIDIA Volta NVIDIA Volta
Performance (RPEAK) 180 PFLOPS 8.5 PFLOPS 150 - 300 PFLOPS 100+ PFLOPS
Power Consumption 13MW 1.7MW ~10MW N/A
Nodes N/A N/A 3,400 N/A
Laboratory Argonne Argonne Oak Ridge Lawrence Livermore
Vendor Intel + Cray Intel + Cray IBM IBM

The second of the supercomputers is Theta, which is a much smaller scale system intended for early production system for Argonne, and is scheduled for delivery in 2016. Theta is essentially a one-generation sooner supercomputer for further development, based around a Cray XC design and integrating Intel Xeon processors along with Knights Landing Xeon Phi processors. Theta in turn will be much smaller than Aurora, and is scheduled to deliver a peak performance of 8.5 PFLOPS while consuming 1.7MW of power.

The combined value of the contract for the two systems is over $200 million, the bulk of which is for the Aurora supercomputer. Interestingly the prime contractor for these machines is not builder Cray, but rather Intel, with Cray serving as a sub-contractor for system integration and manufacturing. According to Intel this is the first time in nearly two decades that they have been awarded the prime contractor role in a supercomputer, their last venture being ASCI Red in 1996. Aurora in turn marks the latest in a number of Xeon Phi supercomputer design wins for Intel, joining existing Intel wins such as the Cori and Trinity supercomputers. Meanwhile for partner Cray this is also the first design win for their Shasta family of designs.

Finally, Argonne and Intel have released a bit of information on what Aurora will be used for. Among fields/tasks planned for research on Aurora are: battery and solar panel improvements, wind turbine design and placement, improving engine noise & efficiency, and biofuel research, including more effective disease control for biofuel crops.

Source: Intel

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  • MrSpadge - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    What redviper is saying is not that NSA & government won't do what you sais - in fact, since Snowden we know full well that they will do it. But the point is that this won't happen on a machine as public as Aurora. Soemthing secret and architectured for the task is what they'll use.
  • mdcsd - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    If you're talking about brute force decryption, there is no way these machines would even scratch the surface.
  • Tewt - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    Cray Land, never heard of them before. What do they make?
  • xthetenth - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    Intel and Cray land contract for 2 Dept. of Energy Supercomputers.

    Never heard of landing a contract?
  • Krysto - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    Obviously Intel's payoff for the US government restricting them from selling supercomputer chips to China - and Nvidia's loss. Also still a loss to the US government and Intel in the end, if China starts building its own competing chips and actually bans Intel and AMD from the market, just like Russia did.
  • Ktracho - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    My concern over this timeframe is what the implications are for the consumer space. Will Intel essentially stop supporting discreet graphics 3 years from now? PCIe Gen. 3 may no longer have enough bandwidth for high end cards by then, so will Intel support an interface with enough bandwidth that third parties can use effectively, or are they banking on their own integrated graphics being enough for everyone? If so, will gamers have to choose between something like ARM or POWER9 (which would be super expensive) if they want discreet graphics?
  • testbug00 - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    given that PCIe gen 1.1 x16 can handle a 980 with only an average of 4-5% (900p to 2160p) and that PCIe 2/3 x16/x8 have over 99% average scaling... And PCIe 4 x16 gives ~4 times the bandwidth of those. It shouldn't be an issue for quite a while.

    And, if Intel does that, everyone is going to recommend going AMD (given they're still around) or perhaps even ARM chips depending on how that develops.
  • Ktracho - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    Part of my concern is that AMD may no longer be viable for the gaming market in that timeframe, and Intel may decide to reduce access to PCIe lanes, at least in their consumer grade CPUs, as they do on some lower-performance CPUs. If this happens, will ARM be good enough or viable for gaming? Not every company is serious about gaming. Will Intel be the next company to take Apple's lead?
  • testbug00 - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    ARM will be good enough for gaming. 3 of Apple's Cyclone+ cores manage to be about as fast as 2 of Intel's Core M cores. Not sure of what clocks they each were exactly hitting... But, A57 approx 35-45% behind Cyclone+ clock per clock (based on single thread benchmarks, I don't know if either chip throttled (sorry!))

    A72 should bring that to around the IPC of Cyclone. If it hits under 2Ghz clockspeed I would be shocked. In current games that would be a problem, but, with APIs getting more and more multithreaded, you could see the performance loss not being very high.

    Nevermind the A72 is for late 2015/2016. So, by 2018 I imagine ARM likely can get a design in the performance of consumer i5-i7 SKU. Hopefully.
  • MrSpadge - Friday, April 10, 2015 - link

    No, PCIe is not going anywhere except to generation 4 with again double the bandwidth. Sure, at some point really massive integrated GPUs may be enough for most. But there's always going to be a market for "accelerators" in some way in the near to mid-term future. This includes GPUs and other stuff.

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