Department of Energy’s mini supercomputer packs a massive computing punch

The 1.5 exaflop Frontier system is expected to enter full operation in 2023.

The US Department of Energy has yet to launch Frontier – set to become the nation’s first exascale supercomputer – but scientists already have a glimpse of what the machine will be capable of, thanks to a powerful early version called Crusher.

Crusher is actually a small part of the Frontier system. Frontier will eventually include over 100 Cray Shasta speakers, delivering 1.5 exaflops of performance. Crusher, on the other hand, is a 1.5 cabinet version of Frontier. It comprises 192 nodes connected by HPE’s Slingshot Interconnect, with each node containing an optimized 3rd Gen AMD EPYC processor and four AMD Instinct MI250X accelerators.

The grinder only takes up 44 square feet of floor space. It’s 1/100th the size of the DoE’s 27-petaflop Cray XK7 Titan supercomputer, which was retired in 2019, but it’s faster than the entire 4,352-square-foot system.

Currently, four well-established projects at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF) run scientific code on the Frontier architecture through Crusher. The results so far have been impressive.

The CANcer Distributed Learning Environment (CANDLE) project, for example, successfully ran a Transformer model on Crusher, achieving an 80% speedup over previous systems. The project is developing next-generation natural language processing models for precision medicine using “Transformers”, which can identify unseen connections between words in clinical text. The project was developed from a partnership between the DOE and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and aims to provide the NCI with better and more accurate models for cancer surveillance.

Meanwhile, nuclear physics code capable of performing massive nuclear simulations is seeing 8x faster speedups on Crusher, compared to the DoE’s current Summit supercomputer. And one of the first astrophysics codes to be rewritten for Frontier is seeing 15 times faster speedups on Crusher, compared to fall 2019 baseline tests on the Summit supercomputer.

The Frontier was set to become the world’s fastest supercomputer last year when it arrived at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but it’s still being integrated and tested. The Frontier system is expected to enter full operation in 2023.

Sherry J. Basler