exascale supercomputer

What is an ‘Exascale’ Supercomputer, and why is Europe Trying to Build One?

A German-French Consortium says they have begun the process of building the European Continent’s First Exascale Supercomputer. Dubbed “Joint Undertaking Pioneer for Innovative and Transformative Exascale Research,” or JUPITER, the joint effort aims to construct a computer that possesses as much computing power as 10 million notebook PCs.

In the press release announcing the ambitious vision, the companies say their supercomputer will be capable of 1 million exaflop/s, a number that corresponds to “one million times one million times one million – a “1” followed by 18 zeros- floating point operations per second.”

The plans for a system with this extreme level of computing power involve the ability to run massive simulations or AI programs that are simply too massive to run on even the most powerful conventional systems.

According to the JUPITER consortium, applications for their new exascale supercomputer will primarily include “training large neural networks like language models in AI, simulations for developing functional materials, creating digital twins of the human heart or brain for medical purposes, validating quantum computers, and high-resolution simulations of our climate that encompass the entire Earth system.”

Artificial intelligence systems have already begun to develop medical treatments and drugs that had never been conceived of by humans, so the idea of a system this powerful tackling these types of problems offers just a hint of what the groups involved in its construction think their mega-powerful computer can accomplish.

Timeline For Construction of Exascale Supercomputer to be Revealed in November

The system is expected to cost at least 500 million Euros, a tab to be split between three distinct partners. Half of the venture will come from European Union funds, with the other half split evenly between the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Ministry of Culture and Science of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (MKW-NRW).

According to the developers, the system they are planning is a modular one, with a highly scalable “Booster Module” that is tightly coupled to a “Cluster Module.”

“The Booster Module will feature NVIDIA’s accelerated computing platform designed for next-generation data center technologies to deliver extreme-scale computing power for AI and simulation workloads,” the press release explains, as well as systems used to train “generative AI-like large language models.” These types of applications require massive amounts of computing power, something the planned exascale supercomputer aims to deliver.

“ParTec, Eviden, SiPearl, and NVIDIA are collaborating with the European scientific community on JUPITER to provide researchers with the state-of-the-art AI and HPC resources they need to drive the next wave of breakthroughs in areas from climate to quantum computing,” the consortium announced. “The first exascale supercomputer in Europe will pioneer new avenues of research and scientific discovery not only in Europe but all over the world.”

JUPITER hopes to begin construction on its exascale system early next year, with testing to begin almost immediately via its Early Access Program. While exact timelines were not given, the group says they will unveil more of their plans for their supercomputer at next month’s SC23 conference.

Christopher Plain is a Science Fiction and Fantasy novelist and Head Science Writer at The Debrief. Follow and connect with him on X, learn about his books at plainfiction.com, or email him directly at christopher@thedebrief.org.