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!

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National L Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Harley Davidson motorcycles the agenda addresse Read more…

By Merle Giles

NSF Awards $10M to Extend Chameleon Cloud Testbed Project

September 19, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded a second phase, $10 million grant to the Chameleon cloud computing testbed project led by University of Chicago with partners at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), Ren Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

NERSC Simulations Shed Light on Fusion Reaction Turbulence

September 19, 2017

Understanding fusion reactions in detail – particularly plasma turbulence – is critical to the effort to bring fusion power to reality. Recent work including roughly 70 million hours of compute time at the National E Read more…

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is s Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

Cubes, Culture, and a New Challenge: Trish Damkroger Talks about Life at Intel—and Why HPC Matters More Than Ever

September 13, 2017

Trish Damkroger wasn’t looking to change jobs when she attended SC15 in Austin, Texas. Capping a 15-year career within Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, she was acting Associate Director for Computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Her mission was to equip the lab’s scientists and research partners with resources that would advance their cutting-edge work... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

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

MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Targets Algorithms, AI Physics

September 7, 2017

Investment continues to flow into artificial intelligence research, especially in key areas such as AI algorithms that promise to move the technology from speci Read more…

By George Leopold

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

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

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

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

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in 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

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

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

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

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