A New Generation of Smarter, Not Faster, Supercomputers

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 19, 2011

As the exascale era looms, a number of research groups are pinpointing the bevy of barriers that the next generation of elite systems will bring.

From his vantage point as Argonne National Lab’s Associate Director for Computing, Environmental, and Life Sciences, Rick Stevens has identified the key challenges of the leap to billion-core systems. In a recent Department of Energy report on the coming challenges and benefits of exascale computing, he said that while the magnitude of the programming challenges ahead is daunting, power is also a major concern.

According to Stevens, a billion-processor computer, if relying on efficient technologies we have now, will gobble over a gigawatt of electricity. To put that in context, even the top-performing utility power plants in the United States generate only a few gigawatts, with most producing less than four. While he contends that GPU computing is one way to curb this incredible hunger for energy, as it stands now, one single exascale machine could require its own dedicated power plant.

Outside of programming and energy consumption, the other barrier to exascale systems is general reliability. He says that with the vast increase in core count comes a vast possibility of failures, noting “If you just scale up from today’s technology, an exascale computer wouldn’t stay up for more than a few minutes at a time” which means that a machine’s failure rate would be once per week or more, at least if you consider that Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s IBM BlueGene/L drops off about once every two weeks.

With the massive boost in power requirements and reliability worries, the role of hyper-smart cluster management software will become more critical. This is a topic that Bill Nitzberg, the self-described “cynical engineer” who serves as CTO for Altair Engineering’s PBS Works division, is quite passionate about, even though he’s “heard it all before” in the pre-petascale days.

Even in high performance computing where every element is being pushed to the limit, it can be a little tough to get excited about the middleware piece of the HPC race. Of course, without the behind the scenes scheduling and workload management, all the raw clustered compute power in the world is essentially useless. And when it comes to this scale of computing where all the challenges that Rick Stevens alluded to can eventually be mitigated (at varying levels) via effective management, middleware might get more attention that it used to.

Nitzberg revealed how the next generation of supercomputers will need to be brainier, not brawnier. He might be biased, coming as he does from the cluster management perspective, so but the fact is—the two most problematic elements of exascale systems outside of programming (power and reliability) can have significant solutions at the management layer.

He says that instead of focusing our attention on making the next generation of supercomputers simply use less power, he claims there also needs to be a focus on making very wise use of what power is available.

As Nitzberg said, “When I think about the future of computing, whether it’s GPUs, clouds, whatever, I see a lot of trends—the issue of power is no trend, this is an ongoing problem we’ll need to face. When I think of making the future generation of computers smarter, the computer scientist in me thinks about optimization and the environmental side of me thinks about power.”

Nitzberg puts this idea of wise power management over mere reduction in context, noting that there needs to be a way for operators of ultra-scale machines to reconsider what workloads they choose to run and when they do so. This might sound, on the surface, very simple—this idea of picking jobs wisely to maximize power and cost efficiency—but he argues that many systems need to be proven for funders as running at peak capacity. He sees this as a concept that might suit the funding powers that be in the short term, but over the long term, the costs of operating such systems will spiral out of control. Running at 99 percent capacity isn’t always necessary and sure isn’t cheap.

Many HPC management software layers provide energy-aware features. For example, Nitzberg described the “Green Provisioning” feature in their PBS Professional product. This, like Platform Computing’s Dynamic Power Optimizer, uses sophisticated monitoring tools that shut down, restart, and reroute according to temperature and other factors in large data center enviornments. According to PBS Works, this solution was “validated by several large-scale customers and has lowered their energy use by up to 20 percent.”

Louis Westby from Platform Computing told us, “There is already a lot out there to help users power up an down, but there are innovations missing in a lot of those solutions. Temperature level monitoring across an entire data center at that scale to ensure there is a steady influx of power and management of heat are, of course, very important when it’s at [exascale].”

Platform Computing, Bright Computing and PBS Works already have power management solutions available that power down systems according to fault detection and they also manage data center temperatures to reroute workloads according to these readings. Open source solutions are also trying to keep pace but as Nitzberg told us, there is no way that the open source solutions available are able to keep pace with the many demands that will come at exascale.

Platform’s Westby said that their solutions on power management are very similar to that of PBS and indeed, as Nitzberg noted, there are still innovations to be made before any workload suite would be ready to tackle the challenges of exascale. Westby noted that they have an eye on the future in terms of smart energy management. She says that one area that affects energy consumption is making sure that the system is able to intelligently handle temperature fluctuations and focus on fail-proof failover mechanisms.

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!

UCSD, AIST Forge Tighter Alliance with AI-Focused MOU

January 18, 2018

The rich history of collaboration between UC San Diego and AIST in Japan is getting richer. The organizations entered into a five-year memorandum of understanding on January 10. The MOU represents the continuation of a 1 Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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 Tennessee), Satoshi Matsuoka (Tokyo Institute of Technology), Read more…

By John Russell

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 and Spectre security updates on the performance of popular H Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and NREL Take Steps to Create a Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Data Center with an H2 Fuel Cell

As enterprises attempt to manage rising volumes of data, unplanned data center outages are becoming more common and more expensive. As the cost of downtime rises, enterprises lose out on productivity and valuable competitive advantage without access to their critical data. Read more…

Fostering Lustre Advancement Through Development and Contributions

January 17, 2018

Six months after organizational changes at Intel's High Performance Data (HPDD) division, most in the Lustre community have shed any initial apprehension around the potential changes that could affect or disrupt Lustre Read more…

By Carlos Aoki Thomaz

UCSD, AIST Forge Tighter Alliance with AI-Focused MOU

January 18, 2018

The rich history of collaboration between UC San Diego and AIST in Japan is getting richer. The organizations entered into a five-year memorandum of understandi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

Fostering Lustre Advancement Through Development and Contributions

January 17, 2018

Six months after organizational changes at Intel's High Performance Data (HPDD) division, most in the Lustre community have shed any initial apprehension aroun Read more…

By Carlos Aoki Thomaz

When the Chips Are Down

January 11, 2018

In the last article, "The High Stakes Semiconductor Game that Drives HPC Diversity," I alluded to the challenges facing the semiconductor industry and how that may impact the evolution of HPC systems over the next few years. I thought I’d lift the covers a little and look at some of the commercial challenges that impact the component technology we use in HPC. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

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

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

ANL’s Rick Stevens on CANDLE, ARM, Quantum, and More

January 8, 2018

Late last year HPCwire caught up with Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for computing, environment and life Sciences at Argonne National Laboratory, f Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

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