The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has been at the forefront of supercomputing for seventy years and has largely paved the way for the entire supercomputing industry. To celebrate that legacy, the agency had several displays at its booth at the Supercomputing 2018 tradeshow.
Although the agency was only officially incorporated in 1977, it sprung from the US governments' Manhattan Project that was originally managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. That project introduced the world to the first atomic bomb during the waning days of World War II. The agency is still responsible for designing, building, and testing nuclear weapons, but it also steers the country's energy research and development programs.
The DOE's work began back in 1945 (before the age of transistors) with the first machine used to study the feasibility of a nuclear weapon, the famed vacuum tube-equipped ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). That work progressed to custom and vector processors, like the famous Cray-1, in the years spanning 1960 to 1989.
1992 to 2005 found the agency's supercomputers evolving to single-core processors and symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), while 2005 also rung in the first supercomputers with multi-core / SMP processors. But now we're in the age of accelerators, otherwise known as GPUs, that have taken the supercomputing world by storm.
The agency currently hosts the Summit and Sierra supercomputers that rank #1 and #2 in the world, respectively. And now, after 70 years, the agency is on the cusp of deploying the world's first exascale-class supercomputers. These exascale machines will calculate upwards of one billion calculations per second, a 1000x improvement over the petascale supercomputers that were the previous benchmark for mind-bending compute power.
All told, the far-flung agency manages 17 National Labs that include such well-known names as the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories, among many others. These facilities tout the most advanced supercomputers on the planet, but they all start with simple components.