Supercomputer ‘El Capitan’ To Manage US Nuclear Stockpile

NNSA photo of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore
An aerial photo shows Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, U.S. on July 5, 2011. (Photo: File photo via REUTERS)

Cray Inc., the developer, and creator of one of the world's supercomputers received a $600 million contract from the American government. Under the contract, Cray will build what could be the world's first exascale supercomputer called the El Capitan.

El Capitan will be specifically designed to handle the nuclear stockpile of the United States. Signatory of the awarded contract includes the Department of Energy or DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration or NNSA, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory or LLNL. 

The move has been particularly significant for the government since these departments were still using the classic IBMSeries/1 computer with the now obsolete 8-inch floppy drives to manage the country's complicated nuclear systems until 2016. The said floppy drive could be dated back in the 1970s but had since been the one handling sensitive information on America's stockpile of intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and warplanes. 

A supercomputer, meanwhile, is developed to handle data as advanced as quantum physics or as hyfaluting as astronomical developments in outer space. It can also simulate the effect of global climate change. For a supercomputer used in military operations, it is used to track or monitor whether defunct nuclear weapons could still detonate by accident.

Although Cray Inc is now dubbed the leader in supercomputers, the most highly advanced supercomputers at present are still from IBM. They are the Summit and Sierra.

By comparison, however, El Capitan will be programmed to analyze U.S. national nuclear security applications at more than 10 times the speed the Sierra system currently used by LLNL. It will also be four times more energy-efficient than Sierra which is currently the world's second most powerful supercomputer. 

With its target production by 2023, El Capitan will be built with a peak capacity of more than 1.5 exaflops, or to be highly technical, more than 1.5 quintillion calculations per second. 

In a statement, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the El Capitan will drive America's competitive edge in energy and national security. 

Meanwhile, Cray will also be making two supercomputers to be used by DOE, the Aurora, and Frontier. 

The $600-million contract from the American government was awarded after Cray's disappointing second quarter of 2019 which it reported early in August. The company reported revenue of $69 million, down from $120 million in the second quarter of 2018. 

The contract also came after Cray and Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced in May a definitive agreement under which HPE will buy Cray for about $1.3 billion. 

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