What is Exascale Computing?

What is Exascale Computing?

What is Exascale Computing?

Exascale computing represents a major leap in computing power capable of performing at least one quintillion calculations per second or 1 exaFLOP. This level of performance is 1000 times greater than the most powerful petascale systems in use today. Exascale computers are designed to tackle the most complex scientific and engineering problems offering solutions that were previously unattainable.

The impact of exascale computing is profound extending across various fields such as climate modeling medical research and national security. For instance the Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has reached a performance of 1.1 exaFLOPs making it the world's fastest supercomputer as of 2022. This unprecedented power allows researchers to conduct more detailed simulations and analyses leading to faster scientific discoveries and innovations.

By achieving such high computational speeds exascale systems enable more realistic simulations of natural and engineered systems. This capability is crucial for advancing precision medicine improving climate models and enhancing the efficiency of renewable energy technologies.

What is Exascale Computing?

Explanation of the Term "Exascale"

Exascale computing refers to a class of computing systems capable of performing at least one exaFLOP which is one quintillion (10^18) floating-point operations per second. This represents a significant milestone in computational power allowing for unprecedented levels of performance and efficiency in processing large-scale computations and complex simulations.

Comparison to Previous Computing Milestones

Terascale Computing:
  • Achieved in the mid-1990s terascale computing systems are capable of performing trillions (10^12) of calculations per second.
  • An example of a milestone in this era is the Intel ASCI Red supercomputer which was the first to break the teraflop barrier in 1996.

Petascale Computing:
  • Introduced in the mid-2000s petascale systems perform quadrillions (10^15) of calculations per second.
  • The IBM Roadrunner which became operational in 2008 was the first supercomputer to achieve a sustained performance of one petaflop.

Exascale Computing:
  • Exascale computing systems are the latest advancement delivering performance levels that are a thousand times greater than petascale systems.
  • The Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory achieving over 1.1 exaFLOPs is an example of a current exascale system.

Exascale systems are designed to handle extremely complex and large-scale simulations which are essential for advances in fields such as climate science medicine and engineering. This leap in computing power enables scientists to perform more detailed and accurate simulations analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently and solve problems that were previously beyond our reach.

By comparing these milestones, it's clear that each generation of computing power has exponentially increased our ability to process data and perform complex calculations. Exascale computing continues this trend, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in scientific research and technology development.

Technical Overview

How Does Exascale Computing Work?

Exascale computing systems are complex and powerful built to perform at least one quintillion calculations per second. These systems are composed of numerous interconnected components designed to work together seamlessly.

Key Components:
  • CPUs (Central Processing Units): Handle general-purpose processing tasks.
  • GPUs (Graphics Processing Units): Specialized for parallel processing ideal for tasks like simulations and deep learning.
  • Nodes: Individual units containing CPUs GPUs memory and storage working together to perform computations.

Each node in an exascale system is interconnected through high-speed networks, allowing them to communicate efficiently and share data quickly. This interconnected structure is critical for the system's overall performance and reliability.

Role of CPUs GPUs and Nodes

  • Execute sequential processing tasks and manage overall system operations.
  • Coordinate with GPUs to distribute workloads effectively.

  • Perform parallel processing tasks making them suitable for large-scale simulations and data analysis.
  • Work in tandem with CPUs to accelerate computation by handling tasks that can be executed simultaneously.

  • Serve as the building blocks of exascale systems.
  • Each node operates independently but collaborates with other nodes to tackle large complex problems by dividing the work among them.

Parallel Processing and Data Storage

Parallel Processing:
  • Exascale computing leverages parallel processing where many processors work on different parts of a problem simultaneously.
  • This method enhances computational speed and efficiency allowing for the rapid processing of vast amounts of data.
  • For instance when a task is inputted into an exascale system it is divided into smaller pieces. These pieces are then processed concurrently by multiple CPUs and GPUs across numerous nodes.

Data Storage:
  • High-speed data storage solutions are essential for handling the massive data sets used in exascale computing.
  • Storage systems are designed to provide rapid access to data minimizing latency and ensuring that processors can retrieve and store data quickly.
  • Efficient data movement and management are crucial to maintain performance especially given the large scale and complexity of the tasks being processed.

By integrating these advanced components and techniques, exascale computing systems achieve unprecedented levels of performance, enabling breakthroughs in scientific research, engineering, and beyond​.

Key Exascale Projects and Systems

Overview of Significant Exascale Projects


frontier exascale supercomputer

  • Located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Frontier is the world's first exascale supercomputer achieving a performance of over 1.1 exaFLOPs.
  • It is designed to support a wide range of scientific applications from climate modeling to nuclear physics.


aurora exascale supercomputer

  • Situated at Argonne National Laboratory Aurora is another prominent exascale project in the US.
  • Aurora is expected to deliver exascale performance with advanced architecture tailored for high-performance computing and artificial intelligence applications.

El Capitan:

ECP exascale supercomputer

  • Planned to be deployed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory El Capitan will be the most powerful of the three with expected performance surpassing its predecessors.
  • It will primarily support the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in ensuring the safety and reliability of the US nuclear stockpile.

Japan's Fugaku:
  • Developed by RIKEN and Fujitsu Fugaku is located at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science.
  • Fugaku became the first system to achieve over 1 exaFLOP in a real-world application. It has been used for various research projects including COVID-19 simulations and climate modeling.

China's Tianhe-3:
  • Part of China's ambitious exascale computing plans, Tianhe-3 is being developed by the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT).
  • China also has the Sunway OceanLight another exascale system showcasing the country's significant advancements in high-performance computing.

These international projects highlight the global race towards achieving and leveraging exascale computing, reflecting the widespread recognition of its transformative potential across various scientific and industrial fields.

Applications of Exascale Computing

Scientific Research

Climate Modeling: Exascale computing allows for highly detailed simulations of climate systems improving the accuracy of weather forecasts and climate change predictions. By analyzing vast amounts of data scientists can better understand the impacts of different variables on global climate patterns.

Cancer Research: With the ability to process and analyze complex biological data at unprecedented speeds exascale systems can accelerate the development of personalized cancer treatments. This includes modeling the interactions between drugs and cancer cells leading to more effective therapies and better patient outcomes.

Astrophysics: Exascale computing enables researchers to simulate the dynamics of galaxies the formation of stars and other astronomical phenomena with greater precision. This leads to a deeper understanding of the universe and the fundamental forces that shape it.

Industrial Applications

Manufacturing: In manufacturing exascale computing can optimize production processes by simulating and testing different materials and designs before physical production. This reduces costs and improves efficiency by identifying potential issues early in the development cycle.

Energy: Exascale systems are used to model and simulate the behavior of new energy materials and technologies. This includes optimizing the design and performance of batteries solar cells and other renewable energy sources contributing to the development of more efficient and sustainable energy solutions.

Benefits in Healthcare and Medical Research

Precision Medicine: Exascale computing supports the analysis of large-scale genomic data helping to identify genetic markers for diseases and tailor treatments to individual patients. This approach enhances the effectiveness of medical interventions and reduces adverse reactions.

Drug Discovery: The ability to model molecular interactions at an atomic level accelerates the drug discovery process. Exascale systems can screen vast libraries of compounds to identify potential new drugs significantly speeding up the time it takes to bring new treatments to market.

Public Health: During pandemics exascale computing can be used to model the spread of diseases and the impact of various intervention strategies. This helps public health officials make informed decisions and deploy resources more effectively to control outbreaks.

These applications demonstrate the transformative potential of exascale computing across various sectors, driving innovation and improving outcomes in scientific research, industry, and healthcare​.


Exascale computing marks a significant leap in computational power capable of performing at least one quintillion calculations per second. This advancement opens up new possibilities in scientific research industrial applications and healthcare driving innovation and improving outcomes across various fields.

Overall the transition to exascale computing represents a monumental step forward in our ability to process and analyze data. It promises to transform how we approach and solve some of the most complex challenges in science industry and medicine. As more exascale systems come online globally the potential for groundbreaking discoveries and advancements will only continue to grow.

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