IBM, White House put supercomputers into coronavirus research

Ruben Fields
March 24, 2020

Last week, reports detailed how University of Tennessee researchers are using IBM's SUMMIT supercomputer to research new COVID-19 treatments.

From volunteering to manufacturing masks and ventilators to ramping up production of essential medical supplies and general items, the country's private sector have joined America's war against coronavirus in a big way, Trump said on Sunday, while launching a new public-private consortium organised by the White House, the Department of Energy and tech company IBM.

The COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium includes the Seattle area's powerhouses of cloud computing, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, as well as IBM and Google Cloud.

Each proposal that's selected will be matched up with computing resources from one of the consortium's members.

While Trump's comments were characteristically unclear, IBM provided more details, noting that it is working with a number of national labs and other institutions to offer a total of 330 petaflops of compute to various projects in epidemiology, bioinformatics and molecular modeling.

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This could lead to potential treatments for deadly infection.

IBM said it would work with its partners to evaluate proposals from researchers around the globe and distribute supercomputing capacity as needed.

Gil noted the consortium's combined resources would allow scientists to expedite experiments that would take months using traditional computing platforms.

Other consortium members include MIT and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a host of Department of Energy national laboratories (where numerous supercomputers are actually housed), and NASA and the National Science Foundation. The site revealed Amazon, Google, and Microsoft would also be part of the new initiative.

AWS has already dedicated $ 20 million to support COVID-19 research, while Microsoft has already announced a number of different initiatives, albeit primarily to help companies cope with the consequences of this crisis. Microsoft wants to "make sure researchers working to combat COVID-19 have access to the tools they need" by expanding access to its Azure Cloud, according to John Kahan, Microsoft's global head for AI for Health Programme. IBM shared that its Summit machine, which it calls "the most powerful supercomputer on the planet", has been used to help researchers identify the molecular compounds that have the best chance of binding to, and therefore neutralizing, the spikes used by the coronavirus to infect healthy cells.

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