What Mainstream Supercomputing Might Mean for the World

By Gareth Spence

April 3, 2012

The age of “mainstream supercomputing” has been forecast for some years. There has even arisen something of a debate as to whether such a concept is even possible – does “supercomputing,” by definition, cease being “super” the moment it becomes “mainstream?”

digital keyholeWhether mainstream supercomputing is here or ever literally can be, however, it is indisputable that more and more powerful capabilities are becoming available to more and more diverse users. The power of today’s typical workstations exceeds that which constituted supercomputing not very long ago.

The question now is, where all of this processing power – increasingly “democratized” – might eventually take the world? There are clues today of what mind-blowing benefits this rapidly evolving technology might yield tomorrow.

Better Products Faster – and Beyond

Supercomputing already undergirds some of the world’s most powerful state-of-the-art applications.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is a prime example. In CFD, the flow and interaction of liquids and gases can be simulated and analyzed, enabling predictions and planning in a host of activities, such as developing better drug-delivery systems, assisting manufacturers in achieving compliance with environmental regulations and improving building comfort, safety and energy efficiency.

Supercomputing has also enabled more rapid and accurate finite element analysis (FEA), which players in the aerospace, automotive and other industries use in defining design parameters, prototyping products and analyzing the impact of different stresses on a design before manufacturing begins. As in CFD, the benefits include slashed product-development cycles and costs and more reliable products – in short, better products faster.

Weather forecasting and algorithmic trading are other applications that today rely heavily on supercomputing. Indeed, supercomputing is emerging as a differentiating factor in global competition across industries.

More Power to More People

As supercomputing’s enabling technologies – datacenter interconnection via fiber-optic networks and protocol-agnostic, low-latency Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) techniques, processors, storage, memory, etc. – have grown ever more powerful, access to the capability has grown steadily more democratized. The introduction of tools such as Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) and Open Computing Language (OpenCL) have simplified the processes of creating programs to run across the heterogeneous gamut of compute cores. And there have emerged offers of high-performance computing (HPC) as a service.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, has garnered significant attention with the rollout of an HPC offering that allows customers to select from a menu of elastic resources and pricing models. “Customers can choose from Cluster Compute or Cluster GPU instances within a full-bisection high bandwidth network for tightly-coupled and IO-intensive workloads or scale out across thousands of cores for throughput-oriented applications,” the company says. “Today, AWS customers run a variety of HPC applications on these instances including Computer Aided Engineering, molecular modeling, genome analysis, and numerical modeling across many industries including Biopharma, Oil and Gas, Financial Services and Manufacturing. In addition, academic researchers are leveraging Amazon EC2 Cluster instances to perform research in physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and materials science.”

These technological and business developments within supercomputing have met with a gathering external enthusiasm to harness “Big Data.” More organizations of more types are seeking to process and base decision-making on more data from more sources than ever before.

The result of the convergence of these trends is that supercomputing – once strictly the domain of the world’s largest government agencies, research-and-education institutions, pharmaceutical companies and the few other giant enterprises with the resources to build (and power) clusters at tremendous cost – is gaining an increasingly mainstream base of users.

The Political Push

Political leaders in nations around the world see in supercomputing an opportunity to better protect their citizens and/or to enhance or at least maintain their economies’ standing in the global marketplace.

India, for example, is investing in a plan to indigenously develop by 2017 a supercomputer that it believes will be the fastest in the world – one delivering a performance of 132 quintillion operations per second. Today’s speed leader, per the November 2011 TOP500 List of the world’s fastest supercomputers, is a Japanese model that checks in at a mere 10 quadrillion calculations per second. India’s goals for its investments are said to include enhancing its space-exploration program, monsoon forecasting and agricultural outputs.

Similar news has come out of the European Union. The European Commission’s motivation for doubling its HPC ante was reported to strengthen its presence on the TOP500 List and to protect and create jobs in the EU. Part of the plan is to encourage supercomputing usage among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially.

SMEs are the focus of a pilot U.S. program, too.

For SMEs who are looking to advance their use of existing MS&A (modeling, simulation and analysis), access to HPC platforms is critical in order to increase the accuracy of their calculations (toward predictive capability), and decrease the time to solution so the design and production cycle can be reduced, thus improving productivity and time to market,” reads the overview for the National Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Consortium (NDEMC).

The motivation here is not simply to level the playing the field for smaller businesses that are struggling to compete with larger ones. Big OEMs, in fact, help identify the SMEs who might be candidates for participating in the NDEMC effort launched with funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce, state governments and private companies. One of the goals is to extend the product-development efficiencies and -quality enhancements that HPC has already brought to the big OEMs to the smaller partners throughout their manufacturing supply chains.

Reasons the NDEMC: “The network of OEMS, SMEs, solution providers, and collaborators that make up the NDEMC will result in accelerated innovation through the use of advanced technology, and an ecosystem of like-minded companies. The goal is greater productivity and profits for all players through an increase of manufacturing jobs remaining in and coming back to the U.S. (i.e. onshoring/reshoring) and increases in U.S. exports.”

Frontiers of Innovation

Where might this democratization of supercomputing’s benefits take the world? How might the extension of this type of processing power to mass audiences ultimately impact our society and shared future? Some of today’s most provocative applications offer a peak into the revolutionary potential of supercomputing.

For example, Harvard Medical School’s Laboratory of Personalized Medicine is leveraging Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud service in developing “whole genome analysis testing models in record time,” according to an Amazon Web Services case study. By creating and provisioning scalable computing capacity in the cloud within minutes, the Harvard Medical School lab is able to more quickly execute its work in helping craft revolutionary preventive healthcare strategies that are tailored to individuals’ genetic characteristics.

Other organizations are leveraging Amazon’s high-performance computing services for optimizing wind-power installations, processing high-resolution satellite images and enabling innovations in the methods of reporting and consuming news.

Similarly, an association of R&E institutions in Italy’s Trieste territory, “LightNet,” has launched a network that allows its users to dynamically configure state-of-the-art services. Leveraging a carrier-class, 40Gbit/s DWDM solution for high-speed connectivity and dynamic bandwidth allocation, LightNet supports multi-site computation and data mining – as well as operation of virtual laboratories and digital libraries, high-definition broadcasts of surgical operations, remote control of microscopes, etc. – across a topology of interconnected, redundant fiber rings spanning 320 kilometers.

Already we are seeing proof that supercomputing enables new questions to be both asked and answered. That trend will only intensify as more of the world’s most creative and keenest thinkers are availed to the breakthrough capability.

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!

GDPR’s Impact on Scientific Research Uncertain

May 24, 2018

Amid the angst over preparations—or lack thereof—for new European Union data protections entering into force at week’s end is the equally worrisome issue of the rules’ impact on scientific research. Among the Read more…

By George Leopold

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Francisco, one would be tempted to dismiss its claims of inventing Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

Silicon Startup Raises ‘Prodigy’ for Hyperscale/AI Workloads

May 23, 2018

There's another silicon startup coming onto the HPC/hyperscale scene with some intriguing and bold claims. Silicon Valley-based Tachyum Inc., which has been emerging from stealth over the last year and a half, is unveili Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Franci Read more…

By John Russell

Silicon Startup Raises ‘Prodigy’ for Hyperscale/AI Workloads

May 23, 2018

There's another silicon startup coming onto the HPC/hyperscale scene with some intriguing and bold claims. Silicon Valley-based Tachyum Inc., which has been eme Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. 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

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17

Altair

AMD @ SC17

AMD

ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack

CEJN @ SC17

CEJN

DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17

Huawei

IBM @ SC17

IBM

IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17

Intel

Lenovo @ SC17

Lenovo

Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17

Microsoft

Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17

Supericro

Tyan @ SC17

Tyan

Univa @ SC17

Univa

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

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