President Trump announced the launch of a new public/private consortium to “unleash the power of American supercomputing resources.”

The White House, the Department of Energy, and IBM will lead the Covid-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, while tech companies including Google, Amazon and Microsoft, are “contributing lots of different things,” the president said.

A long road ahead

Summit supercomputer
– Oak Ridge National Laboratory

"How can supercomputers help us fight this virus? These high-performance computing systems allow researchers to run very large numbers of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling," Dario Gil, IBM’s Director of Research, said.

"These experiments would take years to complete if worked by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms.”

The company's Summit supercomputer at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is capable of 200 petaflops of performance. IBM said that a total of 330 petaflops of compute power was available across a number of national labs and institutions to various projects in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which - as the name suggests - is usually focused on nuclear weapons research, said that it would make some of its systems available for Covid-19 research. That includes the 23 petaflops Lassen, 3.2 petaflops Quartz, and 1.8 petaflops grizzly. It does not appear to include the 125 petaflops Sierra.

NASA, the National Science Foundation, MIT, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise will also provide services to the consortium, along with the major cloud companies.

AWS announced $20 million in cloud credits to support Covid-19 research. "We know that high performance computing can reduce the time it takes to process massive data sets and perform complex simulations from days to hours," Mike Daniels, global public sector VP at Google Cloud, said.

"We look forward to participating in this initiative alongside leaders in technology, academia, and the public sector to make more resources available to Covid-19 researchers and to apply Google Cloud computing capabilities toward the development of potential treatments and vaccines."

Microsoft’s global head for its AI for Health Program, John Kahanm, said that the company would expand access to its Azure cloud service and create more opportunities for researchers to collaborate with the company’s data scientists.

Researchers from academia, government and the private sector will be able to submit coronavirus-related projects on the consortium's website here. Consortium members will help vet applications and fast track those that appear to have the most merit.

Oak Ridge and University of Tennessee researchers have already used Summit for promising Covid-19 discoveries. The supercomputer ran simulations on more than 8,000 compounds and identified 77 small molecules that could be used to accelerate the discovery of new therapies and vaccines for the coronavirus.

It is still expected to be some time before meaningful breakthroughs are found, and readers are encouraged to self-isolate and minimize travel.