Practicalities and Challenges in the Petaflops Era

By Thomas Sterling and Chirag Dekate

June 22, 2011

Every year at ISC we stop and look back at the field of HPC, which has consistently exhibited the greatest rate of change of any technology in the history of mankind. This year is particularly important as the conventional methods that have served well over the last two decades are in direct contention with the technology trends pushing us towards a new future. This is best highlighted in the context of petaflops-capable supercomputers that have become the new standard at the top end of HPC and the reemergence of Asia as a dominant player in that ethereal regime.

But what has defined this year and distinguished it from the recent past is that although the issues are clear, the future conclusions are not. Perhaps, that is the lesson: that we are in a rare state of transition the outcome of which is yet to be determined. And the debate is anything but over. Let’s consider the highlights.

Petaflop computing is now the norm worldwide with the US, Europe, and Asia all driving computation beyond 10^15 flops. Most notable was China with its deployment of Tianhe-1A exceeding 2.5 petaflops (Linpack), assuming the position of the “fastest computer in the world” in 2010. That system is now surpassed with the 8 petaflops K Computer from Japan, giving that country the top spot for the first time since the illustrious Earth-Simulator.

Asia also has significant deployment of more traditional HPC systems, providing the means for strong programs in computational science with potential long-term impact on future science and engineering disciplines. Finally, an increasing share of the integrated components in Asia is homegrown, indicating a likely future with fully native HPC systems.

This year the big debate is the future of HPC system architecture: homogeneous multicore/manycore or heterogeneous GPU-based structures. And in both cases, the issue of programming dominates. GPUs are perceived by many as the fast track to superior computing. And for some applications this has been demonstrated. Indeed, of the top four machines, three incorporate GPUs. That would suggest a clear trend. But not so fast. Of the top 500 systems, only 17 integrate GPUs as a seminal element in achieving their performance goals. That would also suggest a clear trend, but in the opposite direction.

GPUs bring an enormous combined floating-point capability in a relatively small package and at a superior power/performance envelope. The numbers are staggering, but at a cost. Sitting at the wrong end of a PCI bus, the long latencies and relatively low bandwidth demands very high data reuse and highly regular control flow to extract anything near their peak potential. And with program control residing with the general-purpose processors, the programming methods for such hybrid systems is not for the faint of heart or consistent with the mass of legacy codes upon which industry, science, and governments all rely upon and have invested in.

Thus, it is possible that such architectures as TSUBAME 2.0 are transitional in that they represent the beginnings of an empirical search that in a few years will resolve in a distinctly different system architecture, exploiting the best of both manycore and GPUs but in a balanced and well-integrated structure managed by a unified programming methodology. While many practitioners experiment, sometimes to good effect, with CUDA and the emerging OpenCL framework, many more codes and programmers remain wedded to more day-to-day productive means.

These are very exciting times but those who think they know the final answer are probably fooling themselves, if not the rest of us. After all, the new number one K supercomputer is not based on GPUs but is 3 times faster than the number two Tianhe-1A machine, which is.

The steady increase in delivered performance is also pushing the power envelope. One advantage of GPUs, when employed effectively, is a somewhat improved energy efficiency (joules/operations). But while clock rates remain relatively stable (although differing across a range of approximately 3X) the scale of the largest systems continues to grow as HPC approaches another milestone: a million cores. The tradeoff is complex, but grave concerns are warranted as the biggest machines top 10 megawatts.

This is the driving and principal constraint for ambitious projects to deliver sustained exaflops performance before the end of this decade. The International Exascale Software Project has a worldwide representation coordinating the development of a new software platform that will support exascale systems in their management and application in the next decade. Recognizing the long lead times for software and their corresponding almost prohibitive costs, the opportunity to combine investment of resources in mutually aligned directions would appear to be an essential strategy to achieve billion-way parallelism.

In the US, the DARPA sponsored UHPC program, while not expressly targeting exascale systems has initiated this year to develop suitable technologies for a petaflop in a rack at under 60 kilowatts. The European Exascale Software Initiative is to develop a roadmap to exaflops, and also in Europe, both Intel and separately, Cray, are engaged in collaborations with European researchers to drive towards exaflops. In Asia, both Japan and China have programs intended to move aggressively towards sustained exaflops for real world applications, perhaps as early as 2018. But with predictions of hundreds of megawatts required through extensions of conventional methods, what such systems will look like is far from certain, let alone how they will be programmed.

Driving the field of HPC towards new capabilities is the underlying technologies and the processor designs from which they are constructed. Intel, IBM, and AMD are all advancing their processor designs. 45 and 32 nanometer technologies are taking hold even as the number of cores per die and socket is increasing to deliver continuing increase in performance.

Intel’s Xeon E7-8870 Processor integrates 10 cores, operating at 2.7 GHz, with 30MB cache size and supporting 2 terabytes of DDR3 memory. Using Hafnium-based high-k metal gate silicon technology, the Intel chip burns 130 Watts.

Cooler is the 12-core 2.5 GHz AMD Opteron 6100 component at 45 nanometers. It draws 105 Watts and is based on their full-field EUV lithography technology. AMD plans on going to 16 cores by Q3 of this year based on 32 nanometers, while Intel is preparing their 22 nanometer Ivy-bridge processors based on 3-D TriGate transistors.

IBM’s heavy hitter continues to be the Power family with the 45 nanometer Power7 out last year, supporting a number of chip configurations between 4 and 8 cores. This will serve as the central component to the 10 petaflops Blue Waters machine to be deployed next year. Its successor, IBM Power8, is currently under development.

GPU designs continue to push the edge of the envelope in peak performance while enhancing their generality for greater utility. The NVIDIA Tesla 20-series family based on the Fermi architecture can integrate up to 512 CUDA cores with clock rates of between 1.15 and 1.4 GHz and deliver more than a half a teraflop of double precision performance. With comparable performance is the AMD FireStream 9370 series GPU based on the Cypress architecture. Both vendors are moving towards tighter system integration with AMD’s pushing its Fusion system architecture. In the software domain, it’s a head-to-head fight between CUDA and OpenCL, with strong advocates for each.

The underlying technologies are certainly not standing still. Recent graphene technology breakthroughs include UCLA reporting 300 GHz switching rates and UC Berkeley announcing new optical modulators, while IBM has implemented the first integrated circuit based on graphene transistors. 3-D stacking of dies by IBM, Xilinx, and other manufacturers is preparing HPC for higher density packaging with higher internal bandwidths and shorter latencies, while combining disparate functional components (e.g., cores, DRAM) into single integrated units.

Every year an attempt is made to capture a more meaningful representation of supercomputing based on the TOP500. The list provides extensive data but usually only discussed in terms of the highest rated machine, the lowest rated machine, and the sum of all 500 machines. But what about supercomputing for the common man; the mainstream form and capability. This year, although the top machines exhibit unique properties, the canonical system is the standard Linux commodity cluster with a peak performance of 72.4 Teraflops and a Linpack rating of 38.3 teraflops. Such a system incorporates Intel Xeon Nehalem-EP processors, integrated by IBM (HP is a close second), and interconnected with Gigabit Ethernet (InfiniBand has almost caught up). The system comprises 1,134 sockets of 6 cores each and burns 200 Kilowatts. The closest machine to this profile is number 288 on the TOP500 list.

Even though we still rate systems in teraflops, the Graph 500 list is emerging to represent a very different class of computing: data intensive processing, a domain in which the manipulation of the metadata dominates in lieu of floating point operations. Although yet to dominate, this emerging class of computing is important for many sparse problems as well as knowledge management and understanding problems that are expected to have increasing impact on the field of HPC.

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!

Hyperion: HPC Server Market Ekes 1 Percent Gain in 2020, Storage Poised for ‘Tipping Point’

May 12, 2021

The HPC User Forum meeting taking place virtually this week (May 11-13) kicked off with Hyperion Research’s market update, covering the 2020 period. Although the HPC server market had been facing a 6.7 percent COVID-re Read more…

Finland’s CSC Chronicles the COVID Research Performed on Its ‘Puhti’ Supercomputer

May 11, 2021

CSC, Finland’s IT Center for Science, is home to a variety of computing resources, including the 1.7 petaflops Puhti supercomputer. The 682-node, Intel Cascade Lake-powered system, which places about halfway down the T Read more…

IBM Debuts Qiskit Runtime for Quantum Computing; Reports Dramatic Speed-up

May 11, 2021

In conjunction with its virtual Think event, IBM today introduced an enhanced Qiskit Runtime Software for quantum computing, which it says demonstrated 120x speedup in simulating molecules. Qiskit is IBM’s quantum soft Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base clock of 2.0GHz – implemented in HPE's single-socket ProLian Read more…

Supercomputer Research Tracks the Loss of the World’s Glaciers

May 7, 2021

British Columbia – which is over twice the size of California – contains around 17,000 glaciers that cover three percent of its landmass. These glaciers are crucial for the Canadian province, which relies on its many Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

FLYING WHALES runs CFD workloads 15 times faster on AWS

FLYING WHALES is a French startup that is developing a 60-ton payload cargo airship for the heavy lift and outsize cargo market. The project was born out of France’s ambition to provide efficient, environmentally friendly transportation for collecting wood in remote areas. Read more…

Meet Dell’s Pete Manca, an HPCwire Person to Watch in 2021

May 7, 2021

Pete Manca heads up Dell's newly formed HPC and AI leadership group. As senior vice president of the integrated solutions engineering team, he is focused on custom design, technology alliances, high-performance computing Read more…

Hyperion: HPC Server Market Ekes 1 Percent Gain in 2020, Storage Poised for ‘Tipping Point’

May 12, 2021

The HPC User Forum meeting taking place virtually this week (May 11-13) kicked off with Hyperion Research’s market update, covering the 2020 period. Although Read more…

IBM Debuts Qiskit Runtime for Quantum Computing; Reports Dramatic Speed-up

May 11, 2021

In conjunction with its virtual Think event, IBM today introduced an enhanced Qiskit Runtime Software for quantum computing, which it says demonstrated 120x spe Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base cl Read more…

Fast Pass Through (Some of) the Quantum Landscape with ORNL’s Raphael Pooser

May 7, 2021

In a rather remarkable way, and despite the frequent hype, the behind-the-scenes work of developing quantum computing has dramatically accelerated in the past f Read more…

IBM Research Debuts 2nm Test Chip with 50 Billion Transistors

May 6, 2021

IBM Research today announced the successful prototyping of the world's first 2 nanometer chip, fabricated with silicon nanosheet technology on a standard 300mm Read more…

LRZ Announces New Phase of SuperMUC-NG Supercomputer with Intel’s ‘Ponte Vecchio’ GPU

May 5, 2021

At the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) in München, Germany – one of the constituent centers of the Gauss Centre for Supercomputing (GCS) – the SuperMUC Read more…

Crystal Ball Gazing at Nvidia: R&D Chief Bill Dally Talks Targets and Approach

May 4, 2021

There’s no quibbling with Nvidia’s success. Entrenched atop the GPU market, Nvidia has ridden its own inventiveness and growing demand for accelerated computing to meet the needs of HPC and AI. Recently it embarked on an ambitious expansion by acquiring Mellanox (interconnect)... Read more…

Intel Invests $3.5 Billion in New Mexico Fab to Focus on Foveros Packaging Technology

May 3, 2021

Intel announced it is investing $3.5 billion in its Rio Rancho, New Mexico, facility to support its advanced 3D manufacturing and packaging technology, Foveros. Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from I Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base cl Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

CERN Is Betting Big on Exascale

April 1, 2021

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) involves 23 countries, 15,000 researchers, billions of dollars a year, and the biggest machine in the worl Read more…

HPE Launches Storage Line Loaded with IBM’s Spectrum Scale File System

April 6, 2021

HPE today launched a new family of storage solutions bundled with IBM’s Spectrum Scale Erasure Code Edition parallel file system (description below) and featu Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Saudi Aramco Unveils Dammam 7, Its New Top Ten Supercomputer

January 21, 2021

By revenue, oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world, and it has historically employed commensurate amounts of supercomputing Read more…

Quantum Computer Start-up IonQ Plans IPO via SPAC

March 8, 2021

IonQ, a Maryland-based quantum computing start-up working with ion trap technology, plans to go public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) merger a Read more…

Leading Solution Providers


Can Deep Learning Replace Numerical Weather Prediction?

March 3, 2021

Numerical weather prediction (NWP) is a mainstay of supercomputing. Some of the first applications of the first supercomputers dealt with climate modeling, and Read more…

AMD Launches Epyc ‘Milan’ with 19 SKUs for HPC, Enterprise and Hyperscale

March 15, 2021

At a virtual launch event held today (Monday), AMD revealed its third-generation Epyc “Milan” CPU lineup: a set of 19 SKUs -- including the flagship 64-core, 280-watt 7763 part --  aimed at HPC, enterprise and cloud workloads. Notably, the third-gen Epyc Milan chips achieve 19 percent... Read more…

Livermore’s El Capitan Supercomputer to Debut HPE ‘Rabbit’ Near Node Local Storage

February 18, 2021

A near node local storage innovation called Rabbit factored heavily into Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s decision to select Cray’s proposal for its CORAL-2 machine, the lab’s first exascale-class supercomputer, El Capitan. Details of this new storage technology were revealed... Read more…

African Supercomputing Center Inaugurates ‘Toubkal,’ Most Powerful Supercomputer on the Continent

February 25, 2021

Historically, Africa hasn’t exactly been synonymous with supercomputing. There are only a handful of supercomputers on the continent, with few ranking on the Read more…

GTC21: Nvidia Launches cuQuantum; Dips a Toe in Quantum Computing

April 13, 2021

Yesterday Nvidia officially dipped a toe into quantum computing with the launch of cuQuantum SDK, a development platform for simulating quantum circuits on GPU-accelerated systems. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized in his keynote, Nvidia doesn’t plan to build... Read more…

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

The History of Supercomputing vs. COVID-19

March 9, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a greater challenge to the high-performance computing community than any before. HPCwire's coverage of the supercomputing response t Read more…

HPE Names Justin Hotard New HPC Chief as Pete Ungaro Departs

March 2, 2021

HPE CEO Antonio Neri announced today (March 2, 2021) the appointment of Justin Hotard as general manager of HPC, mission critical solutions and labs, effective Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow