High Performance Computing: Are You Prepared for the Exascale Era?


In 1964, The Control Data Corporation’s “CDC 6600” earned the illustrious title of “world’s fastest computer.” Three times faster than its closest competitor at the time (the “IBM 7030”), it performed up to 3 million instructions per second. It held onto that world-renowned recognition for four years, when it was surpassed by the company’s next-generation product, the “CDC 7600,” which could perform up to 30 million instructions per second.

Today, some 60 years later, high performance computing (HPC) capabilities process data and complex calculations at incredibly high speeds of quadrillions of calculations per second, a feat which mid-20th-century industry pioneers might never have imagined possible. HPC achieves these results with a technique called parallel processing, through which thousands of computers are networked together in a cluster that combines their power for greater speed and efficiency. Processing data at speeds measured in units called “floating-point operations per second,” or FLOPS, these super-computing systems also feature high-speed transportation of data between computer servers and ample storage to capture the output of all the data they manage.

The advent of high performance computing— which operates at speeds over a million times faster than the fastest commodity desktop, laptop, or server system in the market today— is enabling science, research, technology, business, artificial intelligence (AI), and society to advance in unprecedented ways.

Here are some of the many applications for high performance computing:

  • Healthcare: Through activities such as molecular modeling and gene sequencing, high performance computing is used by medical researchers to predict how human cells will interact with specific drugs. This can improve diagnosis and treatment while also supporting the development of cures for diseases like cancer and diabetes. In one recent high-profile instance, HPC was effectively utilized by the medical community in conjunction with “The COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium” (comprised of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and IBM) during the pandemic to quickly investigate the way COVID-19 cells invade and replicate within the body, supporting the rapid development of antiviral drugs to combat it.
  • Energy/Climate Research: Through the creation of models involving massive amounts of historical meteorological and climate data, high performance computing currently supports everything from the forecasting of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other storms to wind simulation, climate modeling, insights on the formation of stars, the location and optimization of new oil wells, identification of new sources of renewable energy, and more.
  • Media: The entertainment industry uses high performance computing to edit feature films, create amazing special effects, and stream live events worldwide.
  • Finance: Among other financial services, high performance computing helps track real-time stock trends, automate trading, provide fraud protection, and identify cyber threats.
  • Manufacturing: High performance computing helps manufacturers build products faster and more cost-effectively. In the semiconductor industry, for example, manufacturers are using the strength of HPC to increase productivity on the factory floor. Additionally, auto and engine manufacturers are currently using HPC to develop more fuel-efficient engines that could reduce fuel costs by over US$1 billion annually.

Entering the “Exascale”

With the ongoing digitization of business and society and the expanding availability of faster mobile connections, 3D imaging, and AI tools, experts predict that high performance computing will be in greater demand than ever by businesses across the spectrum as a way to address some of the world’s biggest challenges in science, engineering, and business.

According to industry professional Susheel Tadikonda, Vice President of Engineering in the Systems Design Group at Synopsys, an electronic design automation company, the field of high performance computing will continue to evolve based on the need for enhanced speed, memory, storage, and cloud security “to efficiently manage massive data volumes and deliver high processing and analytical capabilities to various sectors.”

This is already happening through the development of “exascale” computing. The term “exa” means 18 zeroes – specifically, exascale computing can perform more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 floating-point operations per second (FLOPS), or 1 exaFLOPS. In May 2022, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise “Frontier” supercomputer officially became the world’s first and fastest exascale computer. It performed at a record 1.1 exaFLOPS, and experts believe it could evolve to perform at 2 exaFLOPS in the not-too-distant future.

Exploring the Future of High Performance Computing

Are you prepared for the Exascale Era and its capabilities?

Through High Performance Computing Technologies, Solutions to Exascale Systems, and Beyond, a five-course program from IEEE, learners will gain a better understanding of the history and evolution of HPC, from “big iron” computers decades ago to current and future exascale systems. Topics covered include the lessons history can teach about high performance computing, ways of accelerating application performance through hardware and software, the application of exascale computing to real-world problems, achievement of performance and efficiency in the HPC arena, and the use of AI and emerging technologies in science.

Connect with an IEEE Content Specialist today to learn how to get access to this program for your organization.

Interested in access for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network (ILN).

Don’t Miss This Limited Time Special Offer!

In honor of IEEE Education Week, take advantage of this special offer on select eLearning courses— one of which is High Performance Computing: Use of AI and Emerging Technologies in Science— for US$10 each. Use the code ILNIEW24 at checkout on by 30 April 2024.


What is High-Performance Computing (HPC)? IBM.

BasuMallick, Chiradeep.  (1 December 2022).  What is a Supercomputer?  Features, Importance, and Examples. Spiceworks.

Zhang, Kevin. (15 December 2021). High-Performance Computing has Become Crucial to Competitive Advantage—in Every Industry. Fortune. 

Tadikonda, Susheel. Durrant, Scott. Knowlton, Scott. Molina, Ruben. (19 January 2022). Trends Driving the Future of High-Performance Computing (HPC). Embedded.

(22 November 2022). What is Exascale Computing? McKinsey & Company.

(4 February 2022). Researchers Tackle COVID-19 with AI. Caltech. 

Platts, Leon. (10 November 2023). How the Semiconductor Industry is Leveraging High-Performance Computing to Drive Innovation. IBM.

(14 March 2022). The COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium. National Institutes of Health.

What Is High Performance Computing? NetApp.

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One Response to High Performance Computing: Are You Prepared for the Exascale Era?

  1. Chandracoomar Pugo May 17, 2024 at 5:12 am #

    It is a very interesting subject which need to be made aware, I think, to a maximum of concerned persons so that they can be capable to understand it and its consequences …!

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