Cray to build El Capitan supercomputer for DOE for $600M

Cray's Shasta architecture is being used at three national labs, but El Capitan will be the first exascale supercomputer at the National Nuclear Safety Administration. (Cray)

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced Tuesday that Cray will build its first exascale supercomputer called El Capitan under a $600 million contract.

El Capitan is projected to run national nuclear security applications at more than 50 times the speed of the Sequoia system being used at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It is projected to be 10 times faster than any existing computer.

It will be designed to provide peak performance of more than 1.5 exaflops, or 1.5 quintillion calculations per second.  A quintillion is a 1 followed by 18 zeroes. El Capitan will be fully functional in 2023.

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It will be the third planned exascale-class supercomputer in the Department of Energy lineup. The others are Aurora at Argonne National Laboratory and Frontier at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. All three will be built by Cray using its Shasta architecture, Slingshot interconnect and new software.

Decisions have not been made about the processor and GPU components El Capitan will use. 

Part of El Capitan’s role will be to allow the U.S. to be more responsive to a nuclear threat, NNSA officials said. It will use modeling, simulation and artificial intelligence in reaching its conclusions.

Specifically, it will be designed to work for the Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure safety, security and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear stockpile in the absence of underground testing, which was banned in 1992. It will also assess evolving threats to national security and provide insights for nonproliferation and nuclear counterterrorism, according to a statement from DOE, NNSA, Livermore and Cray.

Cray is being acquired by HPE and has tallied up $1.5 billion in orders for its supercomputers using the Shasta architecture. The three systems for DOE combined (El Capitan, Aurora and Frontier) are on track to be faster than the world’s top 500 supercomputers combined.

RELATED: HPE snaps up supercomputing firm Cray for $1.3B


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