U.S. Department of Energy awards $200 million for next-generation supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory

Lynn Orr, U.S. Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science and Energy, announced two new high performance computing awards that will continue to advance U.S. leadership in developing exascale computing. The announcement was made April 9 alongside leaders from Argonne National Laboratory and industry partners at Chicago’s tech startup hub, 1871.

Under the Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Lawrence Livermore initiative, or CORAL initiative, the Department of Energy announced a $200 million investment to deliver a next-generation supercomputer, known as Aurora, to the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. When commissioned in 2018, this supercomputer will be open to all scientific users—drawing America’s top researchers to Argonne National Laboratory. Additionally, Orr announced a $10 million investment for a high-performance computing R&D program, DesignForward, led by DOE’s Office of Science and National Nuclear Security Administration.


“Argonne National Laboratory’s announcement of the Aurora supercomputer will advance low-carbon energy technologies and our fundamental understanding of the universe, while maintaining United States’ global leadership in high performance computing,” said Orr. “This machine—part of the Department of Energy’s CORAL initiative—will put the United States one step closer to exascale computing.”

Today’s $200 million award is the third, and final, supercomputer investment funded as part of the CORAL initiative, a $525 million project announced by Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in November 2014. CORAL was established to leverage supercomputers that will be five to seven times more powerful than today’s top supercomputers and help the nation accelerate to next-generation exasxcale computing, which will be capable of performing one quadrillion calculations per second. DOE earlier announced a $325 million investment to build state-of-the-art supercomputers at its Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.

“Few national investments have the potential to demonstrate dramatic progress and capability across many scientific disciplines and domains with real-world benefits,” said Prof. Peter Littlewood, director of Argonne. “Advanced computing is a lever that drives transformational change in science and technology, accelerating discovery and shortening the time for technology to reach market.”

Key research goals for the Aurora system, expected to be commissioned in 2018, and to which the entire scientific community will have access, include:

  • Materials science: Designing new classes of materials that will lead to more powerful, efficient and durable batteries and solar panels.
  • Biological science: Gaining the ability to understand the capabilities and vulnerabilities of organisms that can result in improved biofuels and more effective disease control.
  • Transportation efficiency: Collaborating with industry to improve transportation systems with enhanced aerodynamics features, as well as enable production of better, more highly efficient and quieter engines.
  • Renewable energy: Engineering wind turbine design and placement to greatly improve efficiency and reduce noise.

Next-generation supercomputer

The new system, Aurora, will use Intel’s high performance computing scalable system framework to provide a peak performance of 180 PetaFLOP, or 180 quadrillion floating-point operations, per second. Only the world’s fastest supercomputers operate at the PetaFlop level.

The system will help ensure continued U.S. leadership in high-end computing for scientific research while also cementing the nation’s position as global leader in the development of next-generation exascale computing systems. Aurora, in effect a “pre-exascale” system, will be delivered in 2018. Argonne and Intel will also provide an interim system, called Theta, to be delivered in 2016, which will help ALCF users transition their applications to the new technology.

“The future of high performance computing will require significant innovations on multiple fronts, and Argonne’s Aurora and Theta supercomputers represent successive generations of the transformation required in future HPC system architectures,” said Raj Hazra, vice president of Data Center Group and general manager of Technical Computing Group at Intel.

“Working together with Cray, these systems provide a highly flexible and adaptable industry design based on Intel’s HPC scalable system framework,” said Hazra, “which will deliver breakthrough performance, power efficiency and application compatibility through an integrated and balanced system architecture—paving the way for new scientific discoveries and far-reaching benefits on a global scale. Intel is honored to have been awarded the Aurora contract as part of the CORAL program.”

Intel will work with Cray Inc. as the system integrator sub-contracted to provide its industry-leading scalable system expertise together with its proven supercomputing technology and HPC software stack. Aurora will be based on a next-generation Cray supercomputer, code-named “Shasta,” a follow-up to the Cray XC series.

“Cray is honored to partner with Argonne and Intel as we develop our next-generation Shasta system to build one of the fastest supercomputers on the planet for the Department of Energy,” said Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray. “Shasta will be a powerful combination of Intel’s new technologies and Cray’s advanced supercomputing expertise, creating a single, flexible system that will enable huge advances in computing and analytics. Aurora will be the first system in our Shasta family and we couldn’t be more excited.”

In addition to procuring systems like Aurora, the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration are making longer-term investments in exascale computing under the DesignForward high-performance computing R&D program, designed to accelerate the development of next-generation supercomputers. The program recently awarded $10 million in contracts to AMD, Cray, IBM and Intel Federal, complementing the $25.4 million already invested in the first round of DesignForward. Under this public-private partnership, the four technology firms will work with DOE researchers to study and develop software and hardware technologies aimed at maintaining our nation’s lead in scientific computing.