Supercomputers will take a huge leap forward when the "exascale" era kicks off in 2021 with the launch of Aurora. But now it looks like that world-leading machine will be usurped before it's even set up. The just announced Frontier system will boast the power of over 1.5 exaflops – that's one and a half billion billion floating point operations per second.

Frontier is being developed as part of the US Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project, and will be built by Cray Inc. using AMD processors and housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Interestingly, Aurora is a product of almost the exact same collaboration, only substituting Intel for the innards.

In terms of processing power, an exaflop is one quintillion floating point operations per second. Getting supercomputers across that line and into the exascale generation is a milestone that computer scientists have been working towards ever since the petascale generation began in 2008.

Aurora was the first exascale supercomputer announced, but now it looks like it may not be the first to market, and it won't be the fastest. Where Aurora just slides in over the line at 1 exaflop, Frontier is set to leapfrog it, jumping to 1.5 exaflops. That makes it about 7.5 times faster than the world's current most powerful supercomputer, Summit, running at 200 petaflops or the equivalent of 0.2 exaflops.

Frontier will be built with over 100 of Cray's new Shasta cabinets, each one crammed with AMD's EPYC CPUs and Radeon Instinct GPUs, all custom-built for exascale computing. With the help of advanced artificial intelligence, all this power will be channeled into scientific endeavors that require huge amounts of number-crunching, such as simulations and models of complex systems like the weather, physics, sub-atomic structures and genomics.

"Frontier will incorporate foundational new technologies from Cray and AMD that will enable the new exascale era — characterized by data-intensive workloads and the convergence of modeling, simulation, analytics, and AI for scientific discovery, engineering and digital transformation," says Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray.

With two years still to go before Frontier and Aurora launch, we expect this exascale race is only going to heat up.

Sources: ORNL, AMD