Minding the Missing Middle

By Michael Feldman

March 31, 2011

The HPC conference season started in earnest this Tuesday with the HPCC event, a two-and-a-half day conference that attracts a rather elite lineup of speakers and attendees. HPCC, aka the Newport conference (after its Rhode Island locale), is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and as someone pointed out, that makes it a couple of years older than the much better-known (and much larger) SC conference of November.

HPCC is geared for the government supercomputing crowd, but topic coverage is broadly spread across the HPC application spectrum. The first day was no exception; it included everything from climate modeling and computational engineering to exascale computing.

Two of the sessions on Tuesday had to do with the infamous “missing middle” problem in HPC. That termed, coined by the Council on Competitiveness, refers to the group of HPC users between low-end, mostly workstation-bound HPC users, and the kind of high-end HPC typically performed at national labs and some universities. The problem is that transitioning from desktop HPC to server-based HPC is filled with roadblocks, especially for commercial users looking to make the leap to small clusters.

At HPCC, we got two perspectives on the problem — one from a vendor, the other from a user. The user in this case was Caterpillar, a company that is fairly well along in the adoption of HPC. In that sense, they’re no longer missing, but they’re definitely in the middle. According to Keven Hoffstetter, Caterpillar’s research program manager for their Virtual Product Development group, they use HPC-based virtual tools to drive much of their product development.

Caterpillar is the largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, which may make it seem like they’re not a “middle” HPC user at all. But keep in mind that the term refers to a capability level, not to company size or R&D budget, which in the case of Caterpillar is significant on both counts (93K employees and $1 billion-plus for R&D). Even though they use a number of virtual tools to model things like engines, cooling systems, and linkage systems, they do so at a relatively low capability level.

For example, Caterpillar does modeling of a differential system using a machine with just 64 cores. That simulation takes 4 weeks. According to Hoffstetter, they would like to increase the performance by at least an order of magnitude so that they can run that model much faster and do hundreds of them at a time. The idea is to go through many iterations as possible in order to optimize the design.

Despite the modest level of use, they’ve managed to realize significant gains from these tools. They’re no longer tied to a 10-year product development cycle, which used to be the accepted timeline at Caterpillar. The virtual modeling speeds up all development phases: concept, design, and testing.

But for Caterpillar, there are still major hurdles to get to greater levels of HPC including getting software to scale to greater level, software licensing costs (which Hoffstetter said are already greater than hardware costs), software usability, multi-physics integration and dealing with increasing hardware complexity (including divergent technologies like CPUs and GPUs).

But Hoffstetter contends the biggest problem there is the cultural change required to move to a complete virtual design paradigm. Basically the fear of doing something differently and the concern that the virtual models do not accurately represent the physical product hinder the acceptance of these tools internally. Besides, the models don’t yet simulate everything, so the engineers end up having to build a physical prototype anyway. In such an environment, the adoption of this technology is by degrees, rather than en masse.

From the vendor side, we had Intel’s Stephen Wheat talking up the democratization of HPC. Intel, of course, has a big stake in broadening the HPC market as far and as fast as it can go. Wheat said HPC currently represents north of 25 percent of their processor revenue and volume. Obviously, expanding that market means big bucks for the chipmaker.

To Intel, this missing middle appears to be low-hanging fruit. A specific focus lately has been the manufacturing industry, which represents a particularly large group of users who have a quantified need for HPC-level simulation and modeling. Intel estimates of that there are about 280,000 small and mid-sized manufacturers in the US alone, and nearly half would use advanced simulation and modeling. That represents a market nearly as large as the entire global HPC segment today.

To that end, Intel has been a big driver behind the newfound Alliance for High Performance Digital Manufacturing (AHPDM), a group devoted to bringing high performance computing to manufacturers. It is especially targeted to these smaller players without the resources or expertise to swallow HPC whole. The alliance consists of industry players, ISVs, academia, and HPC centers of various stripes. The idea is to leverage the existing HPC expertise and infrastructure in order to connect to dots for the manufacturing companies.

Intel is not the only vendor in this group. Microsoft, HP, Dell, NVIDIA, ANSYS and Cray (to name a few) are also part of this. (Disclaimer: HPCwire’s publisher, Tabor Communications, is an Alliance member too.) In any case, I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about AHPDM in the future as some of the efforts get going.

As Wheat said, the definition of success if fairly simple: “When the middle is no longer missing.”

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!

Microsoft Wants to Speed Quantum Development

December 12, 2017

Quantum computing continues to make headlines in what remains of 2017 as tech giants jockey to establish a pole position in the race toward commercialization of quantum. This week, Microsoft took the next step in advanci Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ESnet Now Moving More Than 1 Petabyte/wk

December 12, 2017

Optimizing ESnet (Energy Sciences Network), the world's fastest network for science, is an ongoing process. Recently a two-year collaboration by ESnet users – the Petascale DTN Project – achieved its ambitious goal t Read more…

HPC-as-a-Service Finds Toehold in Iceland

December 11, 2017

While high-demand workloads (e.g., bitcoin mining) can overheat data center cooling capabilities, at least one data center infrastructure provider has announced an HPC-as-a-service offering that features 100 percent fre Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Explore the Origins of Space with COSMOS and Memory-Driven Computing

From the formation of black holes to the origins of space, data is the key to unlocking the secrets of the early universe. Read more…

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be carefully woven together by people to create the computational c Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Microsoft Wants to Speed Quantum Development

December 12, 2017

Quantum computing continues to make headlines in what remains of 2017 as tech giants jockey to establish a pole position in the race toward commercialization of Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be care Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft Spins Cycle Computing into Core Azure Product

December 5, 2017

Last August, cloud giant Microsoft acquired HPC cloud orchestration pioneer Cycle Computing. Since then the focus has been on integrating Cycle’s organization Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE In-Memory Platform Comes to COSMOS

November 30, 2017

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is on a mission to accelerate space research. In August, it sent the first commercial-off-the-shelf HPC system into space for testing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Cluster Competition: Who Won and Why? Results Analyzed and Over-Analyzed

November 28, 2017

Everyone by now knows that Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU) took home the highest LINPACK Award and the Overall Championship from the recently concluded SC17 Student Cluster Competition. We also already know how the teams did in the Highest LINPACK and Highest HPCG competitions, with Nanyang grabbing bragging rights for both benchmarks. Read more…

By Dan Olds

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

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

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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