US Exascale Efforts Benefit in FY 2019 Budget

There was concern in some scientific quarters last year that President Trump’s election could mean budget cuts to the Department of Energy (DoE) that could cascade down to the country’s exascale program at a time when China was ramping up investments in its own initiatives.

The worry was that any cuts that could slow down the work of the Exascale Computing Project would hand the advantage to China in this critical race that will have far-reaching implications in a wide range of scientific and commercial fields like oil and gas exploration, financial services, high-end healthcare, national security and the military.

In a talk about exascale computing a year ago at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, Paul Messina, Argonne National Lab Distinguished Fellow, senior strategic advisor and former head of the Exascale Computing Project, mentioned the concerns about the Trump administration and, pointing to China’s efforts, said that “for the United States, it’s important for us to be right there, if not beyond.”

As we noted last summer, the DoE and its hardware partners – Intel, IBM, Nvidia, Cray, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and AMD – got a financial boost of almost a half billion dollars in research, development and deployment investments. In addition, it was during Trump’s first year that the timetable for the first US exascale system to launch accelerate from 2023 to 2021. Now those involved with US exascale efforts are getting a look at how the Trump administration values the exascale initiatives in the coming year, and they will like what they see.

The Trump administration last month released its budget proposal for the government’s fiscal year 2019, a proposal that puts into writing the administrations spending priorities and goals for the year. Many the departments within the government under the president’s budget would see cuts in their budgets, some as large as 29 percent. However, the DoE would get about 2 percent bump, to $30.6 billion. Within that figure would be $636 million for exascale computing, a $376 million increase from the FY 2017 allocation. The money would be spread across two different offices within the DoE – $473 million in the Office of Science and $163 million in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), according to FY 2019 Budget Request Fact Sheet released by the DoE.

According to the agency’s Budget in Brief document, the money would be used to “support development of an exascale computing software ecosystem by preparing mission critical applications to address exascale challenges” and fund research, development and design at both the Argonne and Oak Ridge national labs to help the country on track to roll out its first exascale-capable system in 2021 and a second one built via a different architecture a year later. In addition, DoE noted that the partnership between the Office of Science and NNSA will boost the United States’ national security by “supporting the nuclear stockpile while supporting the next generation of science breakthroughs not possible with today’s fastest computing systems.”

Another interesting point in the budget proposal is $105 million to “address the emerging urgency of building US competency and competitiveness in the developing area of quantum information science, including quantum computing and quantum sensor technology.”

Such support from the Trump administration should be welcome news to a scientific community that may have been concerned about the commitment from a new president whose views on a broad range of policy issues are so different from those of his predecessor, President Obama, who in 2015 unveiled his National Strategic Computing Initiative that highlighted the importance of supercomputing in bolstering the company’s economic competitiveness.

However, the enthusiasm needs to be tempered by reality. President Trump’s FY 2019 budget proposal is just that, a guide for Congress and the country to his priorities and the direction he wants to take the country in. It outlines policy changes as well as tax and spending views, and It ultimately is up to Congress to pass a budget that he can then decide whether to sign. The proposal is not law or policy, and over the past decade, Congress has tended to essentially ignore the budget proposals from presidents and create its own spending plans. And in a highly divided and increasingly partisan Congress, even doing that has been difficult, with government funding often being done through weeks- or months-long emergency continuing resolutions that tend to keep budgets at previous levels.

That said, the week before Trump unveiled his FY 2019 proposal, Congress reached an agreement that will increase military and domestic spending by almost $300 billion over two years, a deal that addresses FY 2018 spending and that Trump eventually signed. How Congress will handle Trump’s FY 2019 proposal is unclear.

Of the $163 million the president is proposing for NNFS for exascale efforts, $24 million is aimed at the Exascale Class Computer Cooling Equipment (EC3E) project at the Los Alamos National Lab, and another $23 million for the Exascale Computing Facility Modernization (ECFM) project at Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). The almost $473 million for the Office of Science would be used to continue the development of exascale systems and site preparations for deploying the 2021 and 2022 systems.

The US exascale plans call for the Aurora system to be launched in 2021 at Argonne. The system initially was scheduled to go online in 2018 and be based on Cray’s “Shasta” system and Intel’s Xeon Phi “Knights Hill” many-core processor. However, architectural shifts delayed the system, which will come with a new and unseen architecture. It will still be based on Cray and Intel technologies, and will now deliver 1,000 petaflops of peak performance.  Details of the second exascale-capable system, named Frontier, will come online at the Oak Ridge National Lab in 2022.

Exascale has become increasingly competitive over the past few years. Exascale systems promise 50 times the performance of current 20 petaflop-capable supercomputers to handle the highly complex workloads that current systems can’t run. This will become important given the growth of such trends as data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual machines, the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous vehicles. Exascale computing also will help bolster the economic and military fortunes of countries and regions that bring these systems online.

China has plans for at least three pre-exascale systems based on three different architectures that will leverage mostly home-grown technologies and take advantage of investments by the Chinese government. Japan is eyeing the exascale space through Fujitsu’s Post-K supercomputer that will be powered by customized chips based on Arm’s 64-bit architecture and is due to go operational toward the end of 2021.

The European Union has multiple projects underway that are aimed at ramping up the region’s technical capabilities with the goal of becoming a top-three player in the HPC field in 2020. That includes the development of two pre-exascale systems to roll out between 2021 and 2022 and two exascale machines in 2023.

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