HP’s Long Haul Itanium Strategy

By By Michael Feldman

April 28, 2006

This past week at the Gelato Itanium Conference & Expo (ICE), attendees got an opportunity to hear about the latest developments in the world of Linux on Itanium. Prior to his keynote address at the conference, we spoke with Jerry Huck, HP Fellow with the company's server global business unit that produces the Itanium-based HP Integrity servers. Huck was one of the original developers of the architecture and now focuses his attention on moving the Itanium strategy forward as well as evangelizing HP's server offerings. We also talked to Ed Turkel, manager of the product and technology marketing group for HP's High-Performance Computing Division, who shared his perspectives about Itanium in the HPC marketplace.

System design is all about balance

One of the main thrusts of Huck's Gelato ICE keynote was how system designers deal with a variety of issues when building high performance systems. Balancing different aspects of performance with power requirements, as well as costs, makes the design of high-end systems a challenging endeavor.

According to Huck, anytime you move above the commodity system level, you encounter a set of non-linearities where higher levels of capacity, bandwidth, latency and reliability are achieved with higher cost components. The benefits of these are obvious, but for the HPC and mission-critical server market you need to play close attention to the optimal mix of capabilities. For the design engineer, it's often tempting to add capabilities beyond what the customer really needs.

“As system designers, we have to put in the right amount of those characteristics that meets the needs — without going overboard,” says Huck.

The current challenge of multi-core processors is another concern for the system designer. The amount of parallelism that can be provided by multiple cores on a chip must be carefully matched to the intended use.

“What is the right direction for providing the appropriate amount of capacity for large-scale systems,” asks Huck? “If we just continue to say we want to have at least as many sockets as we used to have, now you're challenged with 128 cores or 256 cores — machines that in the past were more like the exotic dedicated machines used by the high performance computing community. But it's not so easy for a standard business to take 256 cores and get it to work well on an Oracle database.”

Another looming issue for the system designer today is power and cooling. As hardware components shrink, systems become more powerful, but also more dense, leading to power and cooling problems. To address these problems, designers are being forced to think outside the rack.

“What's fueling this is that the price of cycles has been dropping,” says Huck. “We're always delivering lower power per unit of work over the years; it just hasn't been as good a slope as the performance curve. The amount of energy used by the CPUs as they get more integrated and become a bigger part of the system has become a larger fraction of the overall system. So as system designers we're seeing power dissipation becoming more of an issue. The other related challenge is that density is going up. The energy per cubic meter is driving in a direction that is making it a real challenge to cool these things.”

Huck admits that system designers are just able to keep up in this area. He says they haven't hit any kind of brick wall in terms of dealing with the heat, but it's not just a matter of running a little more air over the machines. You need colder air and you need to be more efficient with it. Water cooling is emerging as a viable strategy.

“We're starting to sell these half racks that sit on the side of very dense racks that allows us to run chilled water through the side racks to locally chill the air,” says Huck. “Now it's a question of the correct strategy to bring that water closer and closer to the systems. I mentioned to the last group I was talking to — engineering students — some of you should be taking plumbing classes.”

Ed Turkel agrees. “We've seen a big difference in procurements in HPC. Power and cooling has always been an issue, but it's really bubbled up to a much higher priority in recent bids, compared to the ones we've seen in the past. And again, I think it's because we're just capable of packing more into a smaller amount of space. As peoples' compute requirements grow, they just want more.”

So how do HP's Itanium-based systems balance all this? Huck says in order to meet the high throughput needs of commercial and HPC customers, HP's Integrity systems pushes towards higher levels capacities and performance — as compared to 64-bit x86 servers — while trying to keep power requirements in the middle of the spectrum.

“Time to completion is an important metric,” explains Huck. “Itanium systems, both from HP and others, generally are large capacity. Larger performance envelops — more cores, more sockets.”

As far as reliability goes, HP pushes the Integrity systems up towards the highest levels. Huck says their target customers are often running mission-critical work on these machines, so system crashes or computing the wrong answer is just unacceptable. There was a recent internal study at HP that asked the question: if you didn't have any parity or ECC in your memory, how often would you make a mistake? For most large-scale multi-gigabyte machines, the answer was “often.” So if you couldn't correct memory failures on your company's thousand-server cluster, you're going to end up crashing a lot — or worse, computing bad results and not knowing it.

The latest version of HP's Integrity SX2000 chipset has a feature called double chip kill. You can lose two parts in a DIMM and still compute around it. That level of reliability might be more than some HPC customers require, but it's certainly applicable to HP's mission-critical customers.

“Even within HPC, there's variation in the RAS kinds of functionality,” says Turkel. “There are differences in requirements between, for example, a 64-way node, like a Superdome, versus a two-socket system that's part of a larger cluster. A lot of what we're looking at for the HPC products is the right level of RAS features and some degree of configurability. For the Superdome we might configure it more lean and mean for an HPC application, versus what a bank would require.”

“On more aspect of where capacity comes into play is the amount of memory — how many gigabytes per socket per core per system can you configure into the system,” says Huck. “That's a place where HPC and commercial systems probably line up pretty well. Even something as mundane as TLB page sizes can come into play here. The Itanium architecture allows very large page sizes so that we can cover much more of this high-end memory than commodity-based systems, both at a page size level as well as total memory coverage.”

“And that page size has a real influence on application performance, for certain classes of applications — good examples being NASTRAN, CAE, Gaussian and Life Sciences,” adds Turkel.

Itanium takes on RISC

HP's original collaboration with Intel to develop the Itanium was predicated on the notion that it would replace HP's own 64-bit RISC architecture, PA-RISC, while leveraging Intel's chip making capabilities to achieve a greater economy of scale. The new architecture was a break from RISC and used an approach called Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing, where multiple instructions are assembled by the compiler to execute in parallel.

“At the fundamental level, Itanium is really driving towards higher levels of instruction level parallelism,” explains Huck. “That's how it's different from the RISC architectures. It's trying to achieve more work per cycle than what you accomplish in a RISC architecture. It does it with less hardware — less built-in circuits for the purpose of trying to create parallelism. We have a couple of core features in the architecture — predication and speculation. These are the fundamental difference that separates the Itanium from RISC architectures.”

So for a given clock rate, you're doing more work and getting greater throughput. Another way of looking at that is that you don't need to have as high a clock rate to perform the same amount of work. But according to Huck, the architecture is just one component that determines microprocessor performance.

“I usually talk about performance as three components in a microprocessor,” he says. “One is the core architecture — the fundamental instruction set. The second thing is what IC process you're able to implement and how well you can design against that process. And third is the design team that's putting it all together. In the end, the customer sees the collection of all three of those.”

HP certainly hopes their customers like what they see. With the planned phase-out of PA-RISC and their large investment in the Integrity systems, the company is depending on the success of their Itanium strategy. With the dual-core Montecito coming out later this year, and with around 7000 applications available on the architecture, HP expects to be more competitive as time progresses.

“I think we see ourselves squarely competing with the RISC architecture in the commercial and high performance computing space,” says Huck. “And that market is quite large — about half the dollar volume of total servers. We expect to continue to take share away from Power and Sparc, even from our own PA-RISC and Alphas, with our Itanium-based systems. And the ability to differentiate from our smaller scale servers based on Opterons and Xeons is still quite viable. The roadmap show tremendous capability in the upcoming products. We're going to dual-core soon, and scaling up from there with clock rate as well as core count.”

“We often get a lot of question about application availability for Itanium,” notes Turkel. “When we show them our list of available applications, people tend to be surprised. If you look at areas like computer-aided engineering, we've got a very strong portfolio of applications on Itanium.”

But skepticism about the architecture abounds in the broader server community. Unlike HP, Sun and IBM continue to develop their own RISC microprocessors, rather than switching to Itanium. And after more than five years in field, Itanium still holds only a fraction of the high performance server market. Itanium's tentative debut in 2001, with the under-performing Merced chip, was a disappointment.

“There probably was an over-stated expectation,” admits Huck. “People were expecting it to overtake the world in two years and it didn't, especially in the higher end of the market, which moves more slowly. As new deployments and opportunities come up and as people start weighing the capabilities of Itanium as they replace their three, four, and five year old deployments they're going to see that it has a clear place in their data centers. It's just like the standard curve in technology adoption. We were too much in the hype side of the curve for awhile.”

“Specifically in HPC, there were some initial disappointments with early releases,” adds Turkel. “It didn't pan out as the next great thing, initially. But one of the things that people in HPC maybe don't notice is that it's been growing quite steadily. If you go to the IDC numbers that breakdown the market by processor type, you see a steady up-tick of the Itanium market, while the RISC market has been ramping down. And that's as we expected. There's a bigger volume in the x86 and x86-64 side, but that's expected as well since that's been growing up from the bottom.”

Turkel thinks InfiniBand technology adoption might provide a good analogy. “When it first came out people were very excited about it. But it didn't quite get into the marketplace with the kind of functionality that people expected. And so all of sudden, everyone was down of InfiniBand. But if you look closely at the ramp for people actually using it, it's extremely strong, right now.”

“In some sense it's a lot like the early Unix marketplace,” says Huck. “In the beginning, we didn't have much market coverage, but HP became the dominant Unix commercial vendor over MIPS and the other competitors out there. We slowly took the business away from the proprietary architectures of the time, moving them to the client-server model that Unix was supporting. It was slow but sure growth to eventual leadership and I think we'll see the same thing here.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

HPC Career Notes: July 2020 Edition

July 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

Supercomputers Enable Radical, Promising New COVID-19 Drug Development Approach

July 1, 2020

Around the world, innumerable supercomputers are sifting through billions of molecules in a desperate search for a viable therapeutic to treat COVID-19. Those molecules are pulled from enormous databases of known compoun Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC-Powered Simulations Reveal a Looming Climatic Threat to Vital Monsoon Seasons

June 30, 2020

As June draws to a close, eyes are turning to the latter half of the year – and with it, the monsoon and hurricane seasons that can prove vital or devastating for many of the world’s coastal communities. Now, climate Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This year is no different though the conversion of ISC to a digital Read more…

By John Russell

What’s New in HPC Research: Mosquitoes, [email protected], the Last Journey & More

June 29, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Recent U.S. events, most poignantly the killing of George Floy Read more…

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hoefler’s Whirlwind ISC20 Virtual Tour of ML Trends in 9 Slides

June 23, 2020

The ISC20 experience this year via livestreaming and pre-recordings is interesting and perhaps a bit odd. That said presenters’ efforts to condense their comments makes for economic use of your time. Torsten Hoefler’s whirlwind 12-minute tour of ML is a great example. Hoefler, leader of the planned ISC20 Machine Learning... Read more…

By John Russell

At ISC, the Fight Against COVID-19 Took the Stage – and Yes, Fugaku Was There

June 23, 2020

With over nine million infected and nearly half a million dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Japan’s Fugaku Tops Global Supercomputing Rankings

June 22, 2020

A new Top500 champ was unveiled today. Supercomputer Fugaku, the pride of Japan and the namesake of Mount Fuji, vaulted to the top of the 55th edition of the To Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This