Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

IBM and White House to provide supercomputing power for COVID-19 efforts

IBM's Summit will be provided to researchers as part of the consortium.

World's most powerful supercomputer crunches numbers to help fight COVID-19

IBM has partnered with the White House to provide supercomputing power to help researchers better understand and stop the spread of COVID-19.

The tech giant will team up with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the US Department of Energy to launch a COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which will provide 16 systems, such as IBM's Summit supercomputer, that will have a total of more than 330 petaflops, 775,000 CPU cores, and 34,000 GPUs, said director of IBM research Dario Gil.

The consortium pools the supercomputing capacity of IBM, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Argonne National Lab, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Sandia National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, as well as other technology companies.

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

In addition to providing assistance to researchers from the United States, the consortium will also evaluate proposals from around the world and make the supercomputing capacity available to "projects that can have the most immediate impact".

IBM's Summit is already being used by ORNL to fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. Through work performed so far, researchers have identified 77 small-molecule drug compounds that the ORNL said might warrant further study in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is responsible for the COVID-19 disease outbreak.

The supercomputer simulated more than 8,000 compounds to screen for those that are most likely to bind to the main "spike" protein of the coronavirus, rendering it unable to infect host cells. ORNL said the idea was born out of an interest in the coronavirus' entry point into a host cell.

University of Tennessee (UT)/ORNL CMB postdoctoral researcher Micholas Smith built a model of the coronavirus' spike protein, also called the S-protein, based on early studies of the structure.

At the time of writing, the World Health Organization reported that there are over 294,000 confirmed cases, with almost 13,000 fatalities as a result of the virus. The United States has reported over 15,000 cases and 200 deaths.