The competition between the US and China for supercomputer superiority enters a new phase, with the United States ready to protect its leadership at the back of two new machines from Seattle-based Cray.
In its second deal of less than two months, the Supercomputer manufacturer with the Department of Energy for systems was designed to perform more than a quarter of a million calculations per second, a sevenfold increase over the current fastest machine, which is less than one year old. .
One of Cray's computers would be the world's most powerful and most expensive, capable of over 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 billions per second when it comes online in 2021
Under the $ 600 million "Frontier" contract, Cray wanted to develop technology and build that machine using AMD chips for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. It's a massive business, weighing as much as 35 school buses and costing more than any other computer.
So-called "exascale" computing capabilities will enable researchers to simulate and study things such as fusion energy, the global climate and star explosions in greater detail and faster than before. These systems also promise advances in artificial intelligence (AI).
"Frontier's record breaking performance will ensure our country's ability to lead the world into science that enhances the lives and economic prosperity of all Americans and the world," energy secretary Rick Perry said in announcing the contract.
Last year, Oak Ridges supermodel "Summit", built by IBM, made the title of the world's fastest. It was the first time in five years that a US system had position 1 in global supercomputer ranking, displacing a Chinese system. But China has a large and growing share of the top 500 systems – 45 percent at last count in November.
Supercomputer performance is a carefully monitored proxy for national scientific and technological achievement, although companies now run more than half of the world's fastest machines.
The goal of Cray is to make the technology a reason for the exascale era, and so far in 2019 it is good for a good start. The Frontier contract window follows a $ 500 million deal announced in March, where Cray will build another Intascale-based exascale supercomputer to Argonne National Laboratory.
Cray built 49 of the world's current top 500 fastest supercomputers, behind Lenovo, Inspur and Sugon – all Chinese vendors.
Although the full value of Energy Department contracts is conditional on successful development of prototype systems and adequate public funding, the agreements show a turnaround on Cray.
In 2016, CEO Peter Ungaro warns of a decline in the market and the company sought to build its commercial business. Cray recorded more than $ 200 million in losses over the past two years and resigned 15 percent of its employees in 2017. The company's revenue rose 16% in 2018 to $ 455.9 million.
Cray shares received more than 14% in Tuesday trading ultimately at $ 29.97, the highest level since July 2016.
A Cray representative said the company expects to ramp up research and development and service hiring as a result of contract prices. The company's headquarters are located in downtown Seattle, but only 120 of its 1,300 employees work there. The rest is in other offices and a manufacturing plant in Chippewa Falls, Wis.