Overview of the ECP

Quality of Life. Strong Economy. National Security.

The Compelling Case for Exascale Computing

Information technology and applied science engineering play an essential role in society, from improving decision-making to advancing humanity’s knowledge of the world and the universe. Supercomputing and high-performance computing (HPC) enable scientists and engineers to push the edge of what is possible for US science and innovation. Using HPC-based modeling and simulation, they are able to study systems that otherwise would be impractical or impossible to investigate in the real world due to their complexity, size, or fleeting nature, or the danger they pose.

Applying the leading-edge capabilities of HPC-based modeling and simulation is essential to the execution of DOE missions in science and engineering and to DOE’s responsibility for stewardship of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

Over the past several decades, sustained technology investment has supported the development of increasingly powerful HPC systems, resulting in leadership status for the United States as well as substantial economic, energy, and national security benefits. But today, as other nations increase their investments in HPC, global competitiveness is on the rise.

To maintain leadership and to address future challenges in economic impact areas and threats to security, the United States has made a strategic move in HPC—a grand convergence of advances in co-design, modeling and simulation, data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. The Exascale Computing Project (ECP) was formed to drive this effort in support of the world’s first capable exascale ecosystem.

The exponential increase in memory, storage, and compute power made possible by exascale systems will drive breakthroughs in energy production, storage, and transmission; materials science; additive manufacturing; chemical design; artificial intelligence and machine learning; cancer research and treatment; earthquake risk assessment; and many other areas.

With exascale computing, scientists and engineers will be able to solve problems that previously were out of reach, and the effects on the lives of the American people and the world will be profound.

Impact of Exascale Computing

National Security

  • Stockpile stewardship
  • Next-generation simulation tools for assessing nuclear weapons performance
  • Response to hostile threat environments and hypersonic reentry conditions

Scientific Discovery

  • Cosmological probing of the standard model of particle physics
  • Validation of fundamental laws of nature
  • Light-source-enabled analysis of protein and molecular structure and design
  • Finding, predicting, and controlling materials
  • Whole-device modeling of magnetically confined fusion plasmas
  • Demystifying the origin of chemical elements

Economic Security

  • Acceleration of the adoption of additive manufacturing of qualifiable metal parts
  • Urban planning
  • Reliable and efficient planning of the power grid
  • Seismic hazard risk assessment for the first coupling between earthquake motion and building response

Energy Security

  • Design and commercialization of small modular reactors
  • Turbine wind plant efficiency
  • Nuclear fission and fusion reactor materials design
  • Subsurface use for carbon capture, petroleum extraction, and waste disposal
  • High-efficiency, low-emission combustion engine and gas turbine design
  • Stress-resistant crop analysis and catalytic conversion of biomass-derived alcohols

Health Care

  • Acceleration and translation of cancer research by building predictive models for drug response and automation of analysis

The Next Leap Forward in Computing

Exascale computing enables the capability to tackle challenges in scientific discovery, manufacturing R&D, and national security at levels of complexity and performance that previously were out of reach.

A Milestone in Computing

Before exascale, the fastest supercomputers in the world could handle problems at the petascale, or 1 quadrillion (1015) operations each second. Although petascale systems are still quite powerful, exascale—the most recent milestone in computing achievement—marks a transformative change because of the degree of problem-solving capability it enables.

In the most basic sense, exascale is 1,000 times faster and more powerful than petascale. Exascale computing refers to the capability to perform a billion billion (a quintillion) operations per second. The Greek prefix “exa” means 1,000 multiplied by itself six times. Exascale is denoted as 1018, or as 1 followed by 18 zeros.At a quintillion operations per second, exascale computers will more realistically simulate the processes involved in scientific discovery and national security such as precision medicine, regional climate, additive manufacturing, the conversion of plants to biofuels, the relationship between energy and water use, the unseen physics in materials discovery and design, fundamental forces of the universe, and myriad others.

Collaboration and Partnership

The quest to develop a capable exascale computing ecosystem is a monumental effort at many levels.

A Strategic Partnership

The DOE-led Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI), a partnership between two DOE organizations, the Office of Science (SC) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), was formed in 2016 to accelerate research, development, acquisition, and deployment projects to deliver exascale computing capability to the DOE laboratories by the early to mid-2020s.

Three Major Components of ECI

  • Selected program office application development: DOE Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research program and Basic Energy Sciences program and DOE National Nuclear Security Administration
  • Exascale system procurement projects and facilities: ALCF-3 (Aurora), OLCF-5 (Frontier), ASC ATS-4 (El Capitan)
  • Exascale Computing Project

The ECI consists of three main components: (1) SC and NNSA computer facility site preparation investments, (2) computer vendor nonrecurring engineering activities needed for the delivery of exascale systems within this time frame, and (3) the Exascale Computing Project (ECP), which was launched in 2016, bringing together research, development, and deployment activities as part of a capable exascale computing ecosystem to ensure an enduring exascale computing capability for the nation.

ECP, a 7 year project, is focused on delivering specific applications, software products, and outcomes on DOE computing facilities. Integration across these elements with specific hardware technologies for the manifestation of exascale systems is fundamental to the success of ECP.

The outcome of ECP is the accelerated delivery of a capable exascale computing ecosystem to provide breakthrough solutions that address our most critical challenges in scientific discovery, energy assurance, economic competitiveness, and national security. Thus, the aim of ECP’s efforts was not simply a matter of ensuring more powerful computing systems, but rather a fully capable computing ecosystems with integrated applications and an exascale software stack.

To expand on this, ECP was designed to create more valuable and rapid insights from a wide variety of applications (“capable”), which requires a much higher level of inherent effectiveness in all methods, software tools, and ECP-enabled computing technologies to be acquired by the DOE laboratories (“ecosystem”).

Specifically, advanced leadership computing capabilities are required to:

  • discover new energy solutions needed for a sustainable future,
  • extend our knowledge of the natural world through scientific inquiry,
  • maintain a vibrant effort in science and engineering as a cornerstone of the nation’s economic prosperity,
  • deliver new technologies to advance DOE’s mission, and
  • sustain a world-leading workforce in advanced technology.

ECP’s leadership team was balanced with senior-level representation from six of the largest DOE national laboratories, but overall, the project has participation from 15 of the 17 DOE laboratories. ECP is composed of approximately 1,000 researchers, scientists, participating US HPC systems companies, and project management experts in support of the project’s key research focus areas: Application Development, Software Technology, and Hardware and Integration. ECP will also play a key role in helping to drive new training programs throughout the US HPC ecosystem to prepare application developers, researchers, and scientists to take full advantage of future-generation exascale environments.

ECP Enables US Revolutions in Technology Development: Scientific Discovery; Health Care; and Energy, Economic, and National Security



ECP mission

Develop exascale-ready applications and solutions that address currently intractable problems of strategic importance and national interest.

Create and deploy an expanded and vertically integrated software stack on DOE HPC pre-exascale and exascale systems.

Deliver US HPC vendor technology advances and deploy ECP products to DOE HPC pre-exascale and exascale systems.

ECP Vision

Deliver exascale simulation and data science innovations and solutions to national problems that enhance US economic competitiveness, improve our quality of life, and strengthen our national security.

Products and Solutions on the Path to Exascale

ECP has prepared applications, a software stack, and exascale hardware technology to form a capable exascale computing ecosystem.

Looking Ahead

An aggressive research, development, and deployment project, the Exascale Computing Project (ECP) is focused on the delivery of DOE mission-critical applications, an integrated software stack, and exascale hardware technology advances. These products are being deployed to DOE high-performance computing (HPC) facilities on pre-exascale machines and will ultimately be implemented on exascale systems that will address the United States’ most critical challenges in national security, energy assurance, economic competitiveness, health care, and scientific discovery.


Exascale-capable applications are a foundational element of ECP and will serve as delivery vehicles for solutions and insights to key national challenges and emerging technical areas such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Problems heretofore intractable will be accessible with ECP applications.

Summary of activities:

  • Twenty-four Application Development teams have been actively engaged in targeted development and capability enablement for six years.
  • The applications have been well-defined exascale challenge problem targets with associated “science work rate” goals.

Learn more about ECP’s Application Development research focus area.

Software Technologies

Software technologies play an essential enabling role as the underlying technology to application integration and effectiveness on computing systems. An expanded and vertically integrated software stack is being developed to include advanced mathematical libraries and frameworks, extreme-scale programming environments, tools, and I/O and visualization libraries.

Summary of activities:

  • The Software Technology research focus area has 35 projects.
  • Seventy software technology products are being actively developed for next-generation architectures.
  • Regular assessment of software stack products ensures line-of-sight to applications and HPC facilities.
  • Delivering products via vendor stacks, community ecosystems such as LLVM, Software Development Kits (SDKs) and the Extreme-scale Scientific Software Stack (E4S), in both source and binary formats, including containers and build caches.

Learn more about ECP’s Software Technology research focus area.

Hardware and Integration

The Hardware and Integration (HI) Area is focused on the deployment and integration of applications, software, and hardware innovations for the forthcoming exascale platforms. Working closely with the DOE HPC facilities, HI helps deliver optimized applications, robust and well tested software, training and allocation and account support on the early hardware and eventual exascale systems.

Summary of activities:

  • Deployment and testing of the E4S software stack on to the early hardware systems and exascale systems as they become available
  • Optimization, porting and tuning of applications to exascale hardware and software environments
  • Training for the broad ECP user base
  • Allocation and account support for ECP teams running on early hardware and exascale systems

Learn more about ECP’s Hardware and Integration research focus area.

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