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Uncle Sam's nuke-stockpile-simulating souped-super El Capitan set to hit TWO exa-FLOPS, take crown as world's fastest machine in 2023

Department of Energy turns to HPE, AMD to flesh out monster

The US Department of Energy has revealed a few more details about the supercomputer it has commissioned to simulate and study America's stockpile of nuclear weapons. This is the machine that is set to be the world's fastest publicly known super, and is expected to be 10 times more powerful than today's biggest beasts.

Aptly named El Capitan, it first crossed our radar in 2018, when it popped up in a budget request to Congress.

Today we're told the stonking behemoth should top out at two exa-FLOPS – that's two times 1018 floating-point math calculations per second, and more than the 1.5 EFLOPS we were promised last year.

That beats America's IBM-Nvidia-powered Summit, the supercomputer ranked first in the latest global top-500 list, capable of reaching 148,600 tera-FLOPS or 0.1486 EFLOPS. Summit is based at Oak Ridge lab.

In fact, El Capitan will, it is planned, pack more compute power than the top 200 fastest publicly known supercomputers combined. The $600m machine, therefore, will likely be the world's most powerful publicly known supercomputer when it is switched on in 2023. Uncle Sam has turned to HPE – via newly acquired HPC specialist Cray – to make it all happen.

"As an industry and as a nation, we have achieved a major milestone in computing," HPE senior veep Peter Ungaro said on Wednesday. "The computing power and capabilities of this system represent a new era of innovation that will unlock solutions to society's most complex issues and answer questions we never thought were possible."

El Capitan will be kitted out with AMD's next-generation x86-64 Epyc server-class processors that feature its Zen CPU architecture, as well as its Radeon Instinct GPUs for math acceleration, all glued together by AMD's high-bandwidth and low-latency Infinity interconnect fabric. The number of chips was not disclosed today.

A graphic of what the El Capitan supercomputer will look like

Look at me. Look at me. I'm the El Capitan now: Cray to build US govt's $600m cray-cray exascale nuke app super


And so why AMD? "HPE provided multiple processor options" to Uncle Sam, a spokesperson for the IT gear manufacturer told The Register, and the government officials "made their selection based on multiple criteria, including risk, cost, schedule, and estimated performance for their advanced simulation workloads."

The rest of the supercomputer – its motherboards, chassis, storage, networks and software – will be integrated using Cray's Shasta architecture, and it will rely on flash-based storage to keep as much data as possible to hand.

The Department of Energy isn't completely hogging its new toy set; it has agreed to potentially share a smaller, unannounced clone of the supercomputer with pharmaceutical goliath GlaxoSmithKline to run computational models that model new drugs, the National Cancer Institute, which will use its simulation-processing power to uncover mutations of proteins linked to cancers, and others.

El Capitan will be owned by the US government's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a top-secret federal agency responsible for the Land of the Free's nukes. It will be managed and operated by three NNSA R&D research facilities: the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. ®

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