This international push in supercomputing also coming at a point when as a global effort mounts to develop new architectures and programming models to support exascale systems, which are 1,000 times more powerful than a petascale system.
Exascale may offer enormous leaps in scientific research, Smith said. A petascale system can model several million atoms and how they behave, but with an exascale system "you could simulate a whole living cell at atomic detail," Smith said. "Every atom would be explicitly represented."
"If we scale up what we are doing today by a factor of 1,000 that's roughly where we would be -- that's pretty amazing," Smith said.
Exascale will have "tremendous implications for human health, biology and many other fields, too," he said.
Along with the technical challenges of building an exascale system will be the need to develop the science, such as a static model of the cell, that serves as the starting point of a simulation.
The expectation, based on development of processor technology, is that the first exascale system may arrive around 2018.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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