May 7, 2019

U.S. takes on China with new supercomputer

Photo: AMD

Chipmaker AMD, long in Intel's shadow, will be at the heart of one of the world's most powerful new supercomputers, a new Cray machine being built for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Though such large-scale computers represent a tiny fraction of the market, they still power advanced basic research — and confer bragging rights on those institutions, companies and, increasingly, nations whose devices top the annual rankings.


  • The contract between the DOE and Cray is valued at $600 million.
  • The system, known as Frontier, is planned to debut in 2021 and is expected to be the world’s most powerful computer, with a performance of greater than 1.5 exaflops. (An exaflop is a quintillion, or a billion billion, calculations per second.)
  • Frontier will be housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee. It will use more than 90 miles of cable and occupy 7,300 square feet.

What they're saying:

"The biggest battle used to be between vendors, but the new high-performance computing bragging rights are between countries, specifically China versus the U.S."
"China came out of nowhere to get to the top of the high-performance rankings, but the U.S. has reacted swiftly with its exascale commitments."
— Patrick Moorhead, analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy

Frontier is also a big deal for both AMD and Oak Ridge.

  • AMD has been seeking to boost its presence in the data center.
  • "This significantly improves AMD's standing," Moorhead says. "This specific supercomputer won't be operational until 2021, so this choice wasn’t based on what is in market today, but in 2021."
  • This, he adds, shows that AMD should be competitive in high-end computing for the next couple of years.
  • Meanwhile, Oak Ridge has worked hard to be home to the world's most powerful supercomputers, having done so three times previously since 2005 (with its Jaguar, Titan and Summit machines).

The big picture: The other wrinkle in the supercomputer battle is the challenge that the big, pricey computers themselves face as Amazon's AWS, Microsoft's Azure and Google's Cloud offer much of the same performance.

  • In some cases, they even offer some of the security benefits without the upfront cost of building your own supercomputer.
  • "Traditional supercomputers are still very important for reduced latency, but AWS and Azure are starting to offer these capabilities," Moorhead says.
  • Meanwhile, both Amazon and Microsoft have shown a willingness to build government-only data centers if there's enough significant business.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 5,375,648 — Total deaths: 343,721 — Total recoveries — 2,149,412Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 1,639,872 — Total deaths: 97,599 — Total recoveries: 361,239 — Total tested: 13,784,786Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
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Updated 25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

White House announces new coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Trump, March 19, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

The White House announced that beginning at 11:59 pm ET on Thursday, President Trump would suspend entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days in an effort to stop the imported spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Brazil has reported nearly 350,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the second-most in the world behind the U.S. — and has emerged as a Southern Hemisphere hotspot as other heavily affected countries in Asia and Europe have managed to get their outbreaks under control.

Trumpworld's plan to brand Biden

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

Trump's advisers relish the contrast between his public appearances and Joe Biden's lack thereof. The former vice president, following the guidance of public experts, has eschewed public events and stayed home for months now. Trump, meanwhile, is out and about — masks be damned.

What we're hearing: Watch for plenty more mask-free outings from Trump, hyping the reopening of the economy and avoiding discussions of social distancing and death counts.