IBM helps bring supercomputers into the global fight against COVID-19
By Dario Gil, Director of IBM Research
At IBM, I have the privilege of working with colleagues who have dedicated their lives and careers to advancing science and creating innovative technology that can be a force for progress in the world. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been working closely with governments in the U.S. and worldwide to find all available options to put our technology and expertise to work to help organizations 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.
Now, in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Energy and many others, IBM is helping launch the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which will bring forth an unprecedented amount of computing power—16 systems with more than 330 petaflops, 775,000 CPU cores, 34,000 GPUs, and counting — to help researchers everywhere better understand COVID-19, its treatments and potential cures.
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. These experiments would take years to complete if worked by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms.
By pooling the supercomputing capacity under a consortium of partners, including IBM, Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), Argonne National Lab (ANL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Sandia National Laboratory (SNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and multiple leading technology companies, we can offer extraordinary supercomputing power to scientists, medical researchers and government agencies as they respond to and mitigate this global emergency.
As a powerful example of the potential, IBM’s Summit, the most powerful supercomputer on the planet, has already enabled researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee to screen 8,000 compounds to find those that are most likely to bind to the main “spike” protein of the coronavirus, rendering it unable to infect host cells. They were able to recommend the 77 promising small-molecule drug compounds that could now be experimentally tested. This is the power of accelerating discovery through computation.
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.
I am proud to be working with my IBM colleagues and the extended scientific community to help kick-start this effort. What began just days ago with one conversation with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has solidified quickly into an unprecedented effort that can make a real difference. In a time of uncertainty, I want to offer this promise: IBM will continue to explore everything in our power to use our technology and expertise to drive meaningful progress in this global fight.
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