The Department of Energy has awarded six grants totaling $258 million for research on the Exascale Computing Project (ECP).

The mission of the ECP is to deliver at least one exascale-capable system by 2021. Such a system would be able to execute one exaflop, a billion billion calculations per second. U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry made the announcement.

IBM, one of the winners, said that its vision for exascale computing is predicated on a shift from purely compute-centric models to ones that are more data-centric. Other winners include Advanced Micro Devices, Cray, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel, and Nvidia.

Further, IBM believes that major technical challenges to successful exascale system design (e.g. power efficiency, reliability, scalability, programmability) must be addressed in the context of a full system design that is driven by the requirements of actual and complete workflows. IBM said that in order to be affordable and sustainable, any exascale effort must be tied to viable commercial systems products.

The grants are part of the Energy Department’s new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation’s first exascale supercomputers. These computers will be critical for U.S. leadership in areas such as national security, manufacturing, industrial competitiveness, and energy and earth sciences.

The $258 million in funding will be allocated over a three-year contract period, with companies providing additional funding amounting to at least 40 percent of their total project cost, bringing the total investment to at least $430 million.

“Continued U.S. leadership in high performance computing is essential to our security, prosperity, and economic competitiveness as a nation,” said Perry, in a statement. “These awards will enable leading U.S. technology firms to marshal their formidable skills, expertise, and resources in the global race for the next stage in supercomputing — exascale-capable systems.”

The Department’s funding for this program is supporting R&D in three areas — hardware technology, software technology, and application development — with the intention of delivering at least one exascale-capable system by 2021.

Exascale systems will be at least 50 times faster than the nation’s most powerful computers today, and global competition for this technological dominance is fierce. While the U.S. has five of the 10 fastest computers in the world, its most powerful — the Titan system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory — ranks third behind two systems in China.

In other news, IBM announced a partnership with The Weather Company at this week’s International Supercomputing Conference in Germany.

IBM announced a strategic partnership with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to develop cutting-edge models on a supercomputing system to create more powerful and complete set of advanced weather predictions for every part of the globe.

This model will combine meteorological science from The Weather Company, with top-tier computing expertise from IBM Research and NCAR’s weather model combined with IBM Power Systems designed from the ground up for AI and deep analytics. IBM’s upcoming Power9 processor technology to be used in the system.

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