IBM Ponders the Exascale

By Michael Feldman

December 9, 2009

Over the next ten years of HPC history, the mainstream teraflop systems of today will evolve into the petaflop systems of tomorrow, while the leading-edge petaflop supercomputers will be replaced by exaflop machines. Of course, it will be up to a select few high performance computing vendors to fulfill this vision. As the most diverse player in the HPC server business, IBM has some unique advantages as it charts a path toward the exascale milestone.

One challenge for IBM will be to decide what roles its current server architectures play in the upcoming decade. Today, the company offers three basic platforms: its various flavors of x86 clusters, the Blue Gene architecture, and Power-based systems. That mix enables the company not only to own a big chunk of the overall HPC server market — 26 percent in 2008, according to IDC — but also to claim a dominant position in creating the top supercomputing systems in the world. In the latest TOP500 rankings from November 2009, IBM claimed 35 percent of the aggregate Linpack FLOPS of the machines on that list, which happens to be tops among all vendors.

According to Dave Turek, vice president for Deep Computing at IBM, even though the commercial (read mainstream) HPC market is growing faster than the cutting edge systems, it’s commitment to elite supercomputing remains strong. The rationale is that investments in high-end technology, both hardware and software, will trickle down to mid-range and low-end systems. For example, advancements in water cooling technology, which used to be a feature only in top-of-the-line machines, have spread into mainstream servers like IBM’s iDataPlex offerings. In fact, Turek expects the investments at the high end will reap greater benefits in the future than they have in the past, simply because the base of opportunity will grow more dramatically.

According to him, over the next few years, petascale computing offerings at IBM will be represented by PowerPC-based Blue Gene (/P and /Q) and Power7-based systems. “The Power side of the equation, in its various forms, will really be the centerpiece of what we do toward exascale,” says Turek. Note that PowerPC is actually an offshoot of the original Power CPUs — they have overlapping instruction sets (although the PowerPC pedigree is in low-power embedded applications, while Power CPUs have always been high-end server chips). The other interesting aspect to this is that if you discount the minor role Sparc plays, the Power and PowerPC architectures represents the last vestige of RISC CPUs in high performance computing.

At this point, IBM is much less interested in pushing x86 into multi-petaflop systems, as some of its competitors like Cray and SGI are doing, not only because of the difficulties of scaling systems based on general-purpose CPUs, but also because IBM has the luxury of driving its supercomputing aspirations with in-house technology.

Over the next few years, the Power7-based system will start to come into its own at the high end, thanks in no small part to the HPCS DARPA program which helped to drive IBM’s Power roadmap into the multi-petaflop domain. The first commercial Power7-based servers will start shipping in the first half of 2010, but its big HPC debut will be in 2011, when the “Blue Waters” supercomputer boots up at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That machine is aiming at 10 petaflops, which is about five time the performance of ORNL’s Jaguar, the current supercomputing champ. When Blue Waters deploys it may not be the fastest supercomputer in the world, although it will surely be among the top systems.

At the recent SC09 conference, IBM was displaying some of its HPC Power7 server gear, and there was plenty to be impressed about. As expected, the Power7 implementation encompasses 8 cores and supports 4 threads per core in SMT fashion. The die contains 32 MB of embedded DRAM (EDRAM) cache, rather than static RAM (SRAM), which is faster but draws more power and requires more transistor real estate. Two DDR3 memory controllers per CPU are able to deliver 100 GB/sec of memory bandwidth (providing about 0.5 bytes per FLOP). The node includes 4 chips in a multi-chip module (MCM), 8 of which can fit in a 2U chassis, delivering about 8 teraflops of raw computing power.

As you might imagine, that much performance required a good deal of power, which is estimated to be around 800 watts per module. But since the promised performance is so high, you need far fewer servers than you would in a conventional x86-based systems to deliver comparable performance. By necessity, these HPC Power7 nodes will be water cooled, right down to the level of the chip modules themselves, greatly improving the energy efficiency.

In general, the overall design of these cutting-edge systems is focused on getting the most FLOPS/watt in the densest possible configuration. As IBM considers how to achieve three orders of magnitude improvement to reach the exaflop level in the next decade, both density and power are at the forefront of their concerns. “The energy problem, in particular, is a multi-headed hydra,” says Turek.

For years, system designers have focused on the power drawn by the CPU. Now the I/O and memory subsystems are starting to get the attention they deserve. “For exascale systems, our calculations are that the memory subsystem, left to its own devices, would be consuming on the order of 80 megawatts of power,” says Turek. According to him, the power draw by the system interconnect would be roughly the same.

The problem, of course, is that power and, to a lesser extent, space, are limited resources. They’re also resources that are not distributed evenly across the globe, which is why people are talking about deploying supercomputers in Iceland — a place where power, cooling, and real estate are rather inexpensive. However, that doesn’t help IBM or any other computer vendor very much. “From a business perspective you want to pursue a pathway that takes geography out of the question, in terms of who gets to buy and who gets to deploy,” says Turek.

It’s an open question whether Power-based systems or the Blue Gene franchise will make the trip to exascale. Like other vendors’ roadmaps, IBM’s only ventures a couple of years into the future. For the time being, the company has apparently killed the HPC Cell variant line (PowerXCell) that went into the company’s QS22 blades and powered its famous Roadrunner supercomputer. However, some Cell processor DNA will probably end up in future chips (and even in the current Power7 CPU according to a recent CNET News report) since vector-style computing seems like the shortest path to exaflops right now. And although IBM has no current plans to embrace GPGPUs in a big way, events over the next several years could always change its calculation. “Nothing stays static, for long,” concludes Turek. “That’s for sure.”

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!

AI-Focused ‘Genius’ Supercomputer Installed at KU Leuven

April 24, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has deployed a new approximately half-petaflops supercomputer, named Genius, at Flemish research university KU Leuven. The system is built to run artificial intelligence (AI) workloads and, as Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Exascale System for Earth Simulation Introduced

April 23, 2018

After four years of development, the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) will be unveiled today and released to the broader scientific community this month. The E3SM project is supported by the Department of Energy Read more…

By Staff

RSC Reports 500Tflops, Hot Water Cooled System Deployed at JINR

April 18, 2018

RSC, developer of supercomputers and advanced HPC systems based in Russia, today reported deployment of “the world's first 100% ‘hot water’ liquid cooled supercomputer” at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JI Read more…

By Staff

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Hybrid HPC is Speeding Time to Insight and Revolutionizing Medicine

High performance computing (HPC) is a key driver of success in many verticals today, and health and life science industries are extensively leveraging these capabilities. Read more…

New Device Spots Quantum Particle ‘Fingerprint’

April 18, 2018

Majorana particles have been observed by university researchers employing a device consisting of layers of magnetic insulators on a superconducting material. The advance opens the door to controlling the elusive particle Read more…

By George Leopold

AI-Focused ‘Genius’ Supercomputer Installed at KU Leuven

April 24, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has deployed a new approximately half-petaflops supercomputer, named Genius, at Flemish research university KU Leuven. The system is Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’ Read more…

By John Russell

IBM: Software Ecosystem for OpenPOWER is Ready for Prime Time

April 16, 2018

With key pieces of the IBM/OpenPOWER versus Intel/x86 gambit settling into place – e.g., the arrival of Power9 chips and Power9-based systems, hyperscaler sup Read more…

By John Russell

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cloud-Readiness and Looking Beyond Application Scaling

April 11, 2018

There are two aspects to consider when determining if an application is suitable for running in the cloud. The first, which we will discuss here under the title Read more…

By Chris Downing

Transitioning from Big Data to Discovery: Data Management as a Keystone Analytics Strategy

April 9, 2018

The past 10-15 years has seen a stark rise in the density, size, and diversity of scientific data being generated in every scientific discipline in the world. Key among the sciences has been the explosion of laboratory technologies that generate large amounts of data in life-sciences and healthcare research. Large amounts of data are now being stored in very large storage name spaces, with little to no organization and a general unease about how to approach analyzing it. Read more…

By Ari Berman, BioTeam, Inc.

IBM Expands Quantum Computing Network

April 5, 2018

IBM is positioning itself as a first mover in establishing the era of commercial quantum computing. The company believes in order for quantum to work, taming qu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

FY18 Budget & CORAL-2 – Exascale USA Continues to Move Ahead

April 2, 2018

It was not pretty. However, despite some twists and turns, the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget is complete and ended with some very positi Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

Leading Solution Providers

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This