Today, President Obama signed an executive order setting in motion the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), a federal supercomputing research initiative to authorize its implementation in the FBI, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Homeland Security, and NOAA. These deployment agencies will participate and influence the design of a system, software, and potential applications.

The initiative also has another goal: to build an exascale computer within the next ten years that is capable of 10^18 operations per second, i.e. about 30 times faster than today’s fastest machines. The initiative will primarily be a partnership between the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and National Science Foundation, which will be designing supercomputers predominantly for the aforementioned agencies. An exascale computer is one that can perform a quintillion FLOPS, which is almost equivalent to the same power as a human brain.

According to latest edition of the Top500 list of the world’s top supercomputers, the world’s fastest supercomputer is China’s Tianhe-2, a computer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology that can perform 33.86 quadrillion FLOPS. United States has the second fastest supercomputer, a computer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that can perform 17.6 quadrillion FLOPS. The U.S. still has the largest number of supercomputers on the Top500 list with 233 such computers, however, as of late researchers are in a state of agitation about U.S. falling far behind China.

Earlier this year, Cray and Intel won a $200 million contract from the federal government to build a 180-petaflops computer (perform 180 quadrillion FLOPS) by 2018. The initiative seeks to build the world’s very first exaflop computer, capable of running at 1,000 petaflops or higher.

The NSCI initiative will also be responsible for "establishing, over the next 15 years, a viable path forward for future high-performance computing systems even after the limits of current semiconductor technology are reached (the 'post Moore's Law era'). The NSCI is a whole-of-government effort designed to create a cohesive, multi-agency strategic vision and federal investment strategy, executed in collaboration with industry and academia, to maximize the benefits of high performance computing for the United States," the executive order said.

Last year, the Department of Energy released a vouching for the creation of the NSCI and proposed that the government spend $3 billion building an exaflop supercomputer.

As of now, there is no further details on the deadline for the NSCI to create the exascale computer, however, the issued order required the NSCI to be set up within 90 days and will require the NSCI to release annual reports about its progress.