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April 18, 2014

Boosting HPC Access in SME Community

Tiffany Trader
Danielson Engineering HPC - Usine Digitale

If you don’t reside within France or European borders you may not have heard of HPC-SME (or HPC-PME in French), yet this initiative – supported by GENCI, INRIA and French bank BPIFrance – has made significant inroads to increasing access to high-performance computing among French small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs). While the project is centered on boosting competitiveness in France, the lessons learned are widely applicable.

A recent special issue of Usine Nouvelle, a French publication dedicated to numerical simulation and HPC, includes an article detailing the work of HPC-SME and the group’s efforts to bolster awareness and adoption of advanced numerical simulation within the French SME community. Launched three years ago with the support of five technological clusters, research institutes and technology partner Intel, HPC-SME has been able to support close to fifty SMEs from a diverse array of industrial sectors.

The group espouses the message that numerical simulation can improve the design of a product and accelerate time to market, providing SMEs with an important competitive advantage. Although the transition is not easy, having the right support goes a long way.

A change to status quo is often met with initial resistance. “Numerical simulation is not for us” is a common refrain heard by program supporters. Many small and medium enterprises think that HPC is too complex and expensive and is therefore only suitable for larger companies with extensive resources.

HPC-SME works to demystify the adoption process by helping SMEs identify their numerical simulation needs and the financial, technical and human resources necessary for implementation.

“There is a wide range of profiles, from business startups to companies already using HPC on a workstation,” observes Brigitte Duême who leads HPC-SME at INRIA. “Our role is to direct them to the right people.”

The article highlights four main steps to guide SMEs through what can be a daunting process. These are:

Defining Your Project and Identifying the Issues
Finding Skills
Choosing Hardware and Software
Making HPC into a Strategic Tool

The hpc-connexion.org website helps match companies with the appropriate experts and researchers for their domain. Even when businesses are familiar with HPC, they are encouraged to identify issues and requirements at the start of a new project.

The article also includes advice on acquiring and maintaining HPC expertise and the pros and pitfalls of renting versus buying equipment. Above all, it is important to recognize that HPC is an investment and generally not advisable for one-off projects. There’s no doubt that the right mix of technology and skills can provide companies with a distinct advantage in a competitive market.

The second phase of the HPC-SME initiative, which began in 2013, aims to establish a contractors/subcontractor model accomplished through business clusters and other collaborative efforts. The plan also calls for the creation of 12 regional offices focused on the needs of SMEs.