Visit additional Tabor Communication Publications
January 04, 2008
Although this may be the year that a supercomputer achieves the one petaflop Linpack performance mark, I mostly see 2008 as a consolidation period for high performance computing. The important technologies that emerged in 2007 -- quad-core processors, DDR InfiniBand, coprocessor accelerator technology and a variety of new parallelizing software tools (from Intel, Microsoft, RapidMind, Interactive Supercomputing and others) -- will become more fully utilized in 2008. Over the next year, system makers and users will start to figure out how to take advantage of the additional cores, accelerators, faster interconnects and new software technologies to build more productive systems.
These existing technologies will be used not just to create a few petaflop supers, but also a whole lot of sub-$50,000 systems for department and workgroup teams. According to IDC and others, this latter segment represents the biggest opportunity for HPC vendors for 2008 and beyond. In this issue, John West's feature article takes a closer look at this much talked-about HPC mid-market opportunity and how the vendors are approaching it.
If the high volumes are truly at the low end, that would suggest that we're heading for the era of the "personal supercomputer" -- a much maligned term denoting a sub-$10,000 HPC workstation. As long as the utility computing model doesn't swallow up supercomputing in the next few years, HPC workstations could indeed become the next sweet spot in HPC. Probably not for 2008 though. Even though a lot of the pieces already exist -- powerful multicore CPUs and GPUs, standard software libraries, high performance interconnects and a choice of open source or commercial clustering middleware -- no one has been able to glue it all together yet into a compelling product. (SiCortex may have the right idea with their Catapult, which is essentially a "mini-me" version of their larger production machines.) Since we're still two or three years away from manycore processors, integrating one or more accelerators into a workstation is going to be necessary if you're after teraflop-level performance.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Even though 2008 may be a year for consolidation, a raft of exciting products are in the pipeline. Scheduled to debut this year are eight-core x86 chips (in Intel's Nehalem family), Windows HPC Server 2008, 64-bit GPUs for computing, QDR InfiniBand and optical cables for cluster interconnects, just to name a few. A host of HPC-friendly 10GbE products are also waiting to do battle with InfiniBand. Even assuming all these products arrive on schedule, their real impact probably won't be realized until 2009, after the early adopters have kicked the tires for a few months.
On the high performance processor front, the big story will continue to be the battle between Intel and AMD. With Intel completely dominating its smaller rival in 2007, the company is looking to land a death blow with its new Nehalem processor family in the second half of 2008. Nehalem is the "tock" microarchitecture redesign of the 45nm Penryn "tick." As a scalable architecture containing 2 to 8 processor cores, one or more of which could be a GPU, Nehalem might get a jump on AMD's CPU-GPU "Fusion" processors (now called Accelerated Processing Units). Since AMD has pushed its first CPU-GPU offerings into the second half of 2009, Intel could conceivably have a Nehalem CPU-GPU alternative shipping by then.
First though, Intel will probably need to figure out how to get four cores (at least) on the same piece of silicon. Their current strategy of packaging two dual-core chips for their quad-core products will likely not extend to an eight-core Nehalem socket. When you include the additional complexity of an integrated memory controller and Intel's new QuickPath interconnect, the Nehalem architecture represents the biggest change to the company's processor design since they launched the 8086. But if Intel executes its Nehalem roll-out flawlessly (a big if), it will make it almost impossible for AMD to regain the x86 high ground for the foreseeable future.
Intel's high-end GPU play is "Larrabee," a general-purpose graphical computing processor architecture, scheduled to be demo'ed later this year (but probably not delivered until 2009). Meanwhile, NVIDIA, undeterred by having to worry about those pesky CPUs, is scheduled to introduce its next-generation Tesla products for GPU computing early in the new year. Those devices will presumably support 64-bit floating point math, bringing them closer to a general-purpose commodity vector processor for HPC. AMD has its own 64-bit graphics computing offering in the FireStream stream processor, also scheduled for delivery in Q1 2008.
With all the GPU talk in 2007, FPGAs have faded somewhat from the limelight. But they still represent perhaps the biggest unrealized potential of any HPC processor technology. As such, FPGAs seem forever poised to achieve greatness. Over the last year, it's become much easier to connect these chips into standard servers, thanks to AMD and Intel providing the necessary hooks into the host processor. Software development remains the biggest challenge to more widespread adoption. If one of the two leading FPGA vendors, Xilinx or Altera, were to get directly involved in developing HPC-specific FPGA products themselves, like NVIDIA did for GPUs, I might be more bullish on these devices going mainstream. Until then, I see FPGAs mainly exploiting niches where the advantages of performance plus reconfigurability outweigh the extra programming pain.
Network interconnects will be another area to watch in 2008 as users look for a unifying fabric to connect cluster and storage nodes. In 2007, the popularity of InfiniBand continued to expand, riding the growth of high performance clusters. In 2008, iWARP NICs and faster switches may finally give 10GbE the boost it needs to challenge InfiniBand. But I'm still skeptical. The Ethernet crowd thinks its time has come, but I think they've underestimated the maturity and momentum built up by InfiniBand over the last few years. On the other hand, it's tough betting against Ethernet in the long term. 2008 may provide some hints of how this will play out. (I delved a bit deeper into this topic in the final issue of 2007; see InfiniBand and 10GbE Head for Showdown).
If that's not enough prognosticating for you, check out our two feature articles from the HPC brain trusts at IDC and Tabor Research, which offer some of their HPC predictions for the upcoming year. Both analyst teams run the numbers, estimating the size of the total HPC market for 2008. IDC continues to see the largest demand for medium to small HPC systems for departments and workgroups, while Tabor Research thinks a new category of HPC "threshold applications" will provide major growth. Both groups end up with a similar dollar figure for the total HPC market -- in the neighborhood of $20 billion.
OK, $20 billion sounds like a lot. But what if a recession hits in the U.S.? The general consensus from economists seems to be that there's about a 50/50 chance for one in 2008. If a credit crunch drives the recession, as many suspect it will, IT investments will nosedive. The impact on these high-growth HPC application areas could be substantial. The fallout might eliminate some struggling vendors as well as make others more susceptible to acquisition and mergers. That's not necessarily the Doomsday scenario it suggests. A leaner HPC vendor community might serve to focus talent and resources at companies where they could do the most good.
Recession or not, HPC seems destined to continue its penetration into technology-hungry business segments over the next year. At the same time, high-end supercomputers will almost certainly establish new performance records and push the application envelope. All in all, 2008 should provide plenty of interest and intrigue for high performance computing users and spectators alike.
As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Michael Feldman - January 03, 2008 @ 9:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time
Michael Feldman is the editor of HPCwire.
No Recent Blog Comments
In a recent solicitation, the NSF laid out needs for furthering its scientific and engineering infrastructure with new tools to go beyond top performance, Having already delivered systems like Stampede and Blue Waters, they're turning an eye to solving data-intensive challenges. We spoke with the agency's Irene Qualters and Barry Schneider about..
Large-scale, worldwide scientific initiatives rely on some cloud-based system to both coordinate efforts and manage computational efforts at peak times that cannot be contained within the combined in-house HPC resources. Last week at Google I/O, Brookhaven National Lab’s Sergey Panitkin discussed the role of the Google Compute Engine in providing computational support to ATLAS, a detector of high-energy particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The Xeon Phi coprocessor might be the new kid on the high performance block, but out of all first-rate kickers of the Intel tires, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) got the first real jab with its new top ten Stampede system.We talk with the center's Karl Schultz about the challenges of programming for Phi--but more specifically, the optimization...
May 23, 2013 |
he study of climate change is one of those scientific problems where it is almost essential to model the entire Earth to attain accurate results and make worthwhile predictions. In an attempt to make climate science more accessible to smaller research facilities, NASA introduced what they call ‘Climate in a Box,’ a system they note acts as a desktop supercomputer.
May 22, 2013 |
At some point in the not-too-distant future, building powerful, miniature computing systems will be considered a hobby for high schoolers, just as robotics or even Lego-building are today. That could be made possible through recent advancements made with the Raspberry Pi computers.
May 16, 2013 |
When it comes to cloud, long distances mean unacceptably high latencies. Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany examined those latency issues of doing CFD modeling in the cloud by utilizing a common CFD and its utilization in HPC instance types including both CPU and GPU cores of Amazon EC2.
May 15, 2013 |
Supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) have worked on important computational problems such as collapse of the atomic state, the optimization of chemical catalysts, and now modeling popping bubbles.
May 10, 2013 |
Program provides cash awards up to $10,000 for the best open-source end-user applications deployed on 100G network.
05/10/2013 | Cleversafe, Cray, DDN, NetApp, & Panasas | From Wall Street to Hollywood, drug discovery to homeland security, companies and organizations of all sizes and stripes are coming face to face with the challenges – and opportunities – afforded by Big Data. Before anyone can utilize these extraordinary data repositories, however, they must first harness and manage their data stores, and do so utilizing technologies that underscore affordability, security, and scalability.
04/15/2013 | Bull | “50% of HPC users say their largest jobs scale to 120 cores or less.” How about yours? Are your codes ready to take advantage of today’s and tomorrow’s ultra-parallel HPC systems? Download this White Paper by Analysts Intersect360 Research to see what Bull and Intel’s Center for Excellence in Parallel Programming can do for your codes.
In this demonstration of SGI DMF ZeroWatt disk solution, Dr. Eng Lim Goh, SGI CTO, discusses a function of SGI DMF software to reduce costs and power consumption in an exascale (Big Data) storage datacenter.
The Cray CS300-AC cluster supercomputer offers energy efficient, air-cooled design based on modular, industry-standard platforms featuring the latest processor and network technologies and a wide range of datacenter cooling requirements.