The Energy Department is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in researching powerful but energy-efficient computers.
The department is awarding $258 million in research contracts to six companies developing supercomputing technology. Over the next three years, those companies are expected to build out the hardware, software and applications for an exascale computing system 50 times faster than today’s most powerful computers, according to the Energy Department. The department is aiming to have one exascale system by 2021.
IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Advanced Micro Devices, Cray Inc. and NVIDIA were awarded research contracts and are expected to invest hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money, bringing the total cost of the project to about $430 million.
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“Continued U.S. leadership in high-performance computing is essential to our security, prosperity and economic competitiveness as a nation,” Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement. The United States’ most powerful computer system, the Titan, is only the third fastest in the world, behind two in China. The Titan operates at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, according to the Energy Department.
“It is essential that private industry play a role in this work going forward," Paul Messina, director of the Exascale Computing Project, said in a statement explaining the companies investigate ways to increase computing power “without prohibitive increases in energy demand.”
This funding comes after a White House budget proposal advocated nixing research and development funding across agencies and especially at the Energy Department. President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed eliminating the Energy Department’s R&D unit, the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, because “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy technology research and development."
The budget proposal also reduces funding for the department’s applied research programs focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and focusing investments on very early-stage R&D while relying on the private sector to develop and commercialize technology.