Sometimes Accomplishment Is Starting Something New Rather than Finishing Something Old

By Thomas Sterling and Chirag Dekate

June 2, 2010

So perhaps it was of this last year of the first decade of the first century of the new millennium in the field of high performance computing. Not to minimize the continued progression of petaflops computing as we enter Year 3 AP (After Petaflops).  With the addition of new machines both deployed and planned, petaflops-scale applications, as acknowledged by the Gordon Bell Prize, steady increase in the number of cores per socket, and the uncomfortable marriage of GPUs in heterogeneous structures — the last year has been marked by continued and demonstrable advances. As petaflops computing has become truly international in scope and application, this emerging system class is no longer an ethereal fringe, but rather has gained firm traction at such power houses (yes, meant in more than one way) as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where they now serve humanity as the heavy lifters in computational methods addressing the challenges of the modern world.

But one potentially important accomplishment in the last twelve months is not something that has been completed; instead, it is something that has been just initiated. Even as we gain a footing in the era of petaflops computing, we have set in motion the exploration of the undiscovered domain of exaflops computing. This year has seen the launching of multiple programs to develop the concepts, architectures, software stack, programming models, and new families of parallel algorithms necessary to enable the practical realization of exaflops capability prior to the end of this decade. These have involved unprecedented cooperation and coordination within government agencies and laboratories, industry, academia, and internationally. At the dawn of the petaflops era, the emerging focus on the performance regime three orders of magnitude beyond is unlike anything before it and in stark contrast to the grass-roots workshops towards petaflops back in the relaxed days of the run-up to teraflops in the 1990s.

There are good reasons for this. The challenges facing the continued delivered sustained performance across a broad range of application domains are dramatic and reflect a corner turning on the trends that have driven us forward, ultimately due to Moore’s Law and the semiconductor revolution. These, somewhat over simplistically, can be summarized as: concurrency, power, reliability, and productivity.

In the past, the double-whammy of increases in clock rate and increases in processor core complexity delivered two decades of sustained exponential growth in processor core performance which when integrated in clusters of SMP nodes has given us the iconic images of straight lines on semi-log graphs with respect to the passage of time. Now the S-curve is bending for a second time, and not in a good way. Power has hit the threshold of pain, and the architecture tricks have been largely exhausted. Increased resources have been dedicated to confronting the egregious impact of the memory wall and the latencies and blocking incurred. Ever decreasing efficiencies (single digit not uncommon) by several normalization factors (e.g., FLOPS, utilization, per transistor, per joule, per hectare) have exposed the soft underbelly of an ultimately unsustainable golden age: exponentials cannot go on forever.

Indeed, the authors have projected that “we will never achieve sustained zettaflops computing” using the hardware paradigm of Boolean logic gates and binary data storage. Due to the speed of light, Boltzmann’s Constant, and atomic granularity it is predicted that the wall, which is more like a very steep hill will occur at about 32 exaflops. But we are not there yet; indeed, there are a good four orders of magnitude to go. And that will be hard.

Three major activities can be cited that have just been created during the last year to engage the talents of the international community including experts in: hardware, software, algorithms, and domain science. These have resulted from at least two years of preliminary workshops and studies sponsored by diverse entities and internal industry planning as well. These are: IESP, DOE X-Stack, and DARPA UHPC. There are many smaller activities as well.

The International Exascale Software Project (IESP) has brought together the interests, talents, and resources of the international community to cooperate and coordinate long-term development of the necessary software infrastructure required to enable effective exaflops-scale performance before the end of this decade. Learning from past experiences where software always appeared to lag behind the hardware, this world-straddling endeavor is driven by the recognition that to succeed, the software needs to be there when the hardware is. More importantly, the hardware designs must be informed by the needs of the software so that there is minimum mismatch and the concomitant ensuing generations of unsatisfactory patches. But there is an even more critical imperative: the realization that without the right software, exaflops may not be achievable at all (except in special cases) and that no one nation can go it alone; the HPC community is just too small for multiple conflicting paths of a top to bottom software refactoring. In the last year, four multi-day meetings in France, Japan, and the UK among representatives of all of the major HPC nations have provided an emerging roadmap to inform future planning of the joint development of the full supporting software infrastructure for Exascale systems’ operation and programming.

The US DOE has also begun a new program of research with the release of its recent RFP to develop the components of the “X-Stack,” the software required to enable a new generation of science and technology applications with the advent of future exaflops capable systems. These elements include operating systems, runtime systems, programming models and tools, and methods for reliability and mass storage and I/O. The winners, not yet announced, will represent a new wave of research in the US combining partners in the national laboratories, industry, and academia driven by the requirements of major mission-critical applications. This and other related DOE programs were developed in part from an extensive series of community workshops through the preceding year on application domains, hardware and software systems, and mathematical algorithms. This research will join other programs around the world in the first concerted effort to turn the corner and set a new trajectory for future HPC system software architecture, design, and implementation.

Perhaps most dramatic and at the same time risky undertaking is the new DARPA Ubiquitous High Performance Computing (UHPC) research program. UHPC is intended to attack the above challenges through nothing less than revolutionizing HPC system design. Through a lengthy program development process that involved three separate studies in technology, software, and resiliency engaging the talents of experts throughout the US, UHPC evolved an energetic research charter to reinvent computing prior to the end of this decade. The program was not explicitly targeted to exascale but rather to the mid-range of one or some unspecified number of interconnected and interoperable racks, each capable of approximately 1 petaflops sustained performance with a power budget of less than 60 kilowatts.

At the foundation of this program is the call for a new model of parallel computation to replace the venerable and highly successful message-passing model that has dominated for the last two decades. A major emphasis is on power reduction with an average energy of 25 Pico-Joules per floating point operation. A thousand such racks if sufficiently efficient would deliver 1 exaflops for 20 megawatts.

Emphasis is placed on the co-design of both hardware and software components in response to challenge problems that will span the applications domains from some of the largest STEM problems to heavy real time I/O streaming to knowledge management graph problems. Scaling down is as important as scaling up to UHPC, with single modules capable of multiple teraflops (and in mobile modules this is an important operating point).

The program may run eight or nine years and result in one or more prototypes of fully-operational systems. The first half of the program, Phases 1 and 2 spanning four years, will begin this summer with the winning teams to be announced in a month’s time. Atypical of such programs is the expectation of strong cooperation among competing teams and the delivery of much of the techniques and technology to the research community throughout the four phases of the program.

This year has indeed been a very productive year, both for its accomplishments in the deployment and application of petaflops-scale systems and for its forward-looking inauguration of the exaflops era.

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!

Pfizer HPC Engineer Aims to Automate Software Stack Testing

January 17, 2019

Seeking to reign in the tediousness of manual software testing, Pfizer HPC Engineer Shahzeb Siddiqui is developing an open source software tool called buildtest, aimed at automating software stack testing by providing the community with a central repository of tests for common HPC apps and the ability to automate execution of testing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Senegal Prepares to Take Delivery of Atos Supercomputer

January 16, 2019

In just a few months time, Senegal will be operating the second largest HPC system in sub-Saharan Africa. The Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation Mary Teuw Niane made the announcement... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three big public cloud vendors has by turn touted the latest and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Systems With Intel Omni-Path: Architected for Value and Accessible High-Performance Computing

Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) users value high performing clusters. And the higher the performance that their system can deliver, the better. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Resource Management in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

New challenges demand fresh approaches

Fueled by GPUs, big data, and rapid advances in software, the AI revolution is upon us. Read more…

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchmark or suite of benchmarking tools to compare the performanc Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchm Read more…

By John Russell

A Big Data Journey While Seeking to Catalog our Universe

January 16, 2019

It turns out, astronomers have lots of photos of the sky but seek knowledge about what the photos mean. Sound familiar? Big data problems are often characterize Read more…

By James Reinders

Intel Bets Big on 2-Track Quantum Strategy

January 15, 2019

Quantum computing has lived so long in the future it’s taken on a futuristic life of its own, with a Gartner-style hype cycle that includes triggers of innovation, inflated expectations and – though a useful quantum system is still years away – anticipatory troughs of disillusionment. Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM’s New Global Weather Forecasting System Runs on GPUs

January 9, 2019

Anyone who has checked a forecast to decide whether or not to pack an umbrella knows that weather prediction can be a mercurial endeavor. It is a Herculean task: the constant modeling of incredibly complex systems to a high degree of accuracy at a local level within very short spans of time. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

HPE No. 1, IBM Surges, in ‘Bucking Bronco’ High Performance Server Market

September 27, 2018

Riding healthy U.S. and global economies, strong demand for AI-capable hardware and other tailwind trends, the high performance computing server market jumped 28 percent in the second quarter 2018 to $3.7 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to industry analyst firm Hyperion Research. Read more…

By Doug Black

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Confirms 48-Core Cascade Lake-AP for 2019

November 4, 2018

As part of the run-up to SC18, taking place in Dallas next week (Nov. 11-16), Intel is doling out info on its next-gen Cascade Lake family of Xeon processors, specifically the “Advanced Processor” version (Cascade Lake-AP), architected for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and infrastructure-as-a-service workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Germany Celebrates Launch of Two Fastest Supercomputers

September 26, 2018

The new high-performance computer SuperMUC-NG at the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Garching is the fastest computer in Germany and one of the fastest i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft to Buy Mellanox?

December 20, 2018

Networking equipment powerhouse Mellanox could be an acquisition target by Microsoft, according to a published report in an Israeli financial publication. Microsoft has reportedly gone so far as to engage Goldman Sachs to handle negotiations with Mellanox. Read more…

By Doug Black

Houston to Field Massive, ‘Geophysically Configured’ Cloud Supercomputer

October 11, 2018

Based on some news stories out today, one might get the impression that the next system to crack number one on the Top500 would be an industrial oil and gas mon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

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

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

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