Cray has been commissioned by Lawrence Livermore Nationwide Laboratory to create a supercomputer head and shoulders above all the remainder, with the contract valued at some $600 million. Disappointingly, El Capitan, because the system will likely be known as, will likely be kind of solely devoted to redesigning our nuclear armament.
El Capitan would be the third “exascale” laptop being constructed by Cray for the U.S. authorities, the opposite two being Aurora for Argonne Nationwide Lab and Frontier for Oak Ridge. These computer systems are constructed on an entire new structure known as Shasta, during which Cray intends to mix the velocity and scale of excessive efficiency computing with the simple administration of cloud-based enterprise instruments.
Due for supply in 2022, El Capitan will likely be working on the order of 1.5 exaflops, or floating level operations per second, a measure of calculation typically used to trace supercomputer efficiency. Exa denotes a quintillion of one thing.
Proper now the highest canine is already at Oak Ridge: an IBM-built system known as Sierra. At about 1.5 petaflops, it’s about 1/10th the facility of Aurora — in fact, the previous is operational and the latter is theoretical proper now, however you get the concept.
One wonders precisely what all this computing energy is required for. There are actually numerous domains of science that might be superior by entry to a system like El Capitan — simulations of atmospheric and geological processes, as an illustration, might be simulated in 3D at a bigger scale and better constancy than ever earlier than.
So it was a bit disheartening to be taught that El Capitan will, as soon as absolutely operational, be devoted virtually solely to labeled nuclear weaponry design.
To be clear, that doesn’t simply imply larger and extra deadly bombs. The contract is being carried out with the collaboration of the Nationwide Nuclear Safety Administration, which in fact oversees the nuclear stockpile alongside the Division of Power and army. It’s an enormous operation, as you would possibly anticipate.
We now have an ageing nuclear weapons stockpile that was basically designed and engineered over a interval of a long time ending within the ’90s. We could not must construct new ones, however we do really must preserve our outdated ones in good condition, not simply in case of conflict however to forestall them failing of their advancing age and decrepitude.
“We prefer to say that whereas the stockpile was designed in two dimensions, it’s really ageing in three,” stated LLNL director Invoice Goldstein in a teleconference name on Monday. “We’re presently redesigning each warhead and supply system. That is the primary time we’ve been doing accomplished this for about 30 years now. This requires us to have the ability to simulate the interplay between the physics of the nuclear system and the engineering options of the supply system. These are actual engineering interactions and are really 3D. That is an instance of a brand new requirement that we’ve got to fulfill, a brand new downside that we’ve got to resolve, and we merely can’t depend on two dimensional simulations to get at. And El Capitan is being delivered simply in time to deal with this downside.”
Though in response to my query Goldstein declined to supply a concrete instance of a 3D versus 2D analysis query or consequence, citing the labeled nature of the work, it’s clear that his remarks are supposed to be taken each actually and figuratively. The depth, so to talk, of things affecting a nuclear weapons system could also be stated to have been a lot flatter within the ’90s, once we lacked the computing assets to do the advanced physics simulations that may inform their design. So each conceptually and spatially the design course of has expanded.
That stated, let’s be clear: “warhead and supply techniques” means nukes, and that’s what this $600 million supercomputer will likely be devoted to.
There’s a silver lining there: Earlier than being air-gapped and coming into into its labeled operations, El Capitan can have a “shakeout interval” throughout which others can have entry to it. So whereas for many of its life it will likely be laborious at work on weapons techniques, throughout its childhood it will likely be capable of expertise a wider breadth of scientific issues.
The precise time period and who can have entry to it’s to be decided (that is nonetheless three years out), however it’s not an afterthought to quiet jealous researchers. The group must get used to the instruments and work with Cray to refine the system earlier than it strikes on to the highest secret stuff. And opening it as much as quite a lot of analysis issues and strategies is a good way to do it, whereas additionally offering a public good.
But Goldstein referred to the 3D simulations of nuclear weapons physics because the “killer app” of the brand new laptop system. Maybe not the phrase I’d have chosen. Nevertheless it’s laborious to disclaim the significance of creating positive the nuclear stockpile is useful and never leaking or falling aside — I simply want probably the most highly effective laptop ever deliberate had a bit extra noble of a function.