The Supercomputer Race After ExaFlops is Super Cool

The first Exaflop supercomputers are just scaling up with energy efficient modifications the technologies that have enabled the 100-200 petaFlop supercomputers.

Super Cool Technologies Beyond the Exaflop Supercomputer

DownUnder GeoSolutions (DUG) has started making petaflop supercomputers that are much more energy efficient by switching to dielectric liquids for cooling. They are cutting energy usage and operating costs in half. Early in 2019, they will activate the 250 PetaFlop (single precision) DUG Cloud computing system.

Race for Superconducting Supercomputers

In 2018, China invested $145-million into a five-year catch-up effort to fabricate their own superconducting computers by 2022.

Superconducting Josephson junctions switch quickly (~1 picosecond), dissipate little energy per switch (SuperCables

IARPA funded technology and techniques for energy-efficient, high data rate transmission of digital signals between computing systems operating at room and cryogenic temperatures. The SuperCables program is trying to demonstrate components to convert from low-level electrical signals in circuits operating at a temperature of approximately 4 kelvins to conventional optical signals at room temperature. Pending results of this program, IARPA may support a follow-on program to develop the complete system for data transmission between room temperature and 4 kelvins.

D-Wave System Has Made Progress on Some of the Superconducting Computing Chalenges

D-Wave Systems has been using cryogenic superconducting chips for quantum annealing systems. They have pushed forward technologies that are needed for superconducting supercomputers. They have fabricated the smallest superconductor chip feature sizes today (240 nanometers, fabricated by D-Wave’s foundry, SkyWater Technology). They have successfully adapted existing EDA tools to superconductors as SuperTools aims to do with Synopsys’ EDA tools. They have solved the problem of interfacing superconducting circuitry with CMOS but this was done at a smaller scale than IARPA’s SuperCable goal.

Other Non-Cryo Technology to get to Many ExaFlops

There are other technologies which could enable supercomputers beyond Exaflop speeds.

IBM is developing AI focused 8 bit technology that will be 200-400 times faster than a Google third generation TPU (Tensor Processing Unit). 1000 TPUs have been combined into a pod which can achieve 100 Petaflop (16 bit) processing speed. If the scaling issues can be resolved, then IBM analog and digital AI focused systems or Google technology could achieve 1000 ExaFlops or a ZettaFlop around 2030.

Optalysis is still funded to develop multi-exaflop optical supercomputing systems. They are targeting around 2022 for something around 20 ExaFlops.