330 petaflops of supercomputer power recruited in fight against coronavirus

23 Mar 2020

The IBM Summit supercomputer. Image: ORNL

IBM and the US government will use their combined supercomputer arsenal to help researchers discover potential treatments for the coronavirus.

Some of the most advanced supercomputers in the world will be tasked with helping researchers crunch through enormous amounts of data in the hope of discovering a potential treatment or cure for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In a blog post, Dario Gil, director of IBM Research, announced that the company is working with the White House, the US Department of Energy and others in the government to pool their supercomputer power. Combined, this equates to 330 petaflops, 775,000 CPU cores and 34,000 GPUs.

Future Human

“These high-performance computing systems allow researchers to run very large numbers of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics and molecular modelling,” Gil said. “These experiments would take years to complete if worked by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms.

“Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been working closely with governments in the US and worldwide to find all available options to put our technology and expertise to work to help organisations be resilient and adapt to the consequences of the pandemic, and to accelerate the process of discovery and enable the scientific and medical community to develop treatments and ultimately a cure.”

IBM said that its Summit supercomputer has already helped researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee to screen 8,000 compounds and find the ones most likely to bind to the main ‘spike’ of the coronavirus. In doing so, this would render it unable to infect host cells.

Amazon also providing support

So far, this has resulted in 77 promising compounds that could be put forward for experimental testing.

“Now we must scale, and IBM will work with our consortium partners to evaluate proposals from researchers around the world and provide access to this supercomputing capacity for the projects that can have the most immediate impact,” Gil added.

It comes after Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced it was to commit $20m towards helping researchers and companies accelerate diagnostic research towards fighting the pandemic.

Steve Davis, a member of the World Health Organization’s Digital Health Technical Advisory Group and an advisory group to AWS, said: “The world needs more and more private sector innovation to combat this pandemic.

“Amazon’s commitments and participation are very welcome, particularly since the lack of significant next-generation diagnostic tools remains a large gap in most health systems. A platform to link research, digital capabilities and new products to customers globally is an exciting venture.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic