Oak Ridge already is at work on the first phase of the so-called "Titan" supercomputer, a Cray XK6 machine that will upgrade its existing Jaguar supercomputer with 960 Tesla M2090 GPUs from Nvidia, according to the processor vendor. The GPUs are based on Nvidia's current chip architecture, Fermi.
Next year, Oak Ridge will begin the second phase of Titan's development, outfitting the machine with as many as 18,000 Tesla GPUs based on Nvidia's next-generation processor architecture, code-named Kepler.
[ Learn more about NASA's Pleiades supercomputer. Read NASA Supercomputer Tackles Secrets Of Galaxies. ]
However, Titan potentially will deliver 20 petaflops of performance at its peak, making it more than two times faster than Japan's K computer, an 8.2 petaflop machine that currently holds the top spot on the list, according to Nvidia, whose processors power the Chinese supercomputer that ranked second on the list, the 2.6-petaflop Tianhe-1A. Oak Ridge also plans for Titan to be more energy-efficient than K, the company said.
Supercomputer speeds are picking up. All of the systems in the top 10 for the first time achieved at least petaflop performance, which is the current gold standard for supercomputers. "Flop" stands for floating-point operations per second, and a petaflop computer can perform a thousand trillion flops.
Oak Ridge's DOE supercomputing facility expects to use Titan for a range of research, including material science, energy technology, medical research and geoscience.
"All areas of science can benefit from this substantial increase in computing power, opening the doors for new discoveries that so far have been out of reach," said Jeff Nichols, associate laboratory director for Computing and Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge, in a statement.
The federal government currently operates and maintains five of the top 10 supercomputers in the world, according to the list. In addition to Jaguar, the others at the top are: a DOE Cray computer called Cielo; an SGI system called Pleiades at the NASA Ames Research Center; a DOE Cray system called Hopper; and a DOE IBM system called Roadrunner.
In addition to the DOE's work, other federal departments and agencies use supercomputers for a variety of research that requires high-computational processing, such as climate and weather modeling, and next-generation technology research and simulations such as those run by NASA and the Department of Defense.
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