Researchers Squeeze GPU Performance from 11 Big Science Apps

By Michael Feldman

July 18, 2012

The GPGPU faithful received another round of encouraging news this week. In a report  published this week, researchers documented that GPU-equipped supercomputers enabled application speedups between 1.4x and 6.1x across a range of well-known science codes. While those results aren’t the order of magnitude performance increases that were being bandied about in the early days of GPU computing, the researchers were encouraged that the technology is producing consistently good results with some of the most popular HPC science applications in the world.

The work was presented in March at the Accelerating Computational Science Symposium, an event devoted to understanding the use of hybrid supercomputers for scientific research. The ensuing report published by the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, detailed the performance GPU acceleration across the science application spectrum — biology, chemical physics, combustion, nuclear fission and fusion, material science, seismology, molecular dynamics, and climatology.

The 11 simulation codes tested –  S3D, Denovo, LAMMPS, WL-LSMS, CAM-SE, NAMD, Chroma, QMCPACK, SPECFEM-3D, GTC, and CP2K — are used by tens of thousands of researchers worldwide. NAMD alone has over 50 thousand users.

It should be noted that all of the principle participants at the symposium, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS), not to mention symposium sponsors Cray and NVIDIA, have a stake in proving the viability of GPU-accelerated supercomputing. The three supercomputing centers recently made substantial investments in GPU-based HPC, ORNL with its upcoming 20-plus-petaflop Titan system, NCSA with the 10-petaflop Blue Waters supercomputer, and CSCS with its currently installed 176-node Todi machine.

Titan, Blue Waters and Todi are all Cray supercomputers with varying amounts of AMD Opteron and NVIDIA Tesla horsepower, although none with greater than a 1:1 GPU-to-CPU ratio. That assumes a certain balance in the application between the sequential pieces of the code that would best be run on the CPU and the parallel components that would be candidates for the GPU. But applications can have very different needs in this regard, so that hardware ratio may not always be optimal. Vendors such as HP, Dell, Appro and others offer systems with much higher ratios of GPU to CPUs.

To level the playing field as much as possible, the performance runs for the science apps were made on CSCS’s Monte Rosa, a Cray XE6 machine equipped with two AMD “Interlagos” (Opteron 6200) CPUs per node, and TitanDev, a XK6 Titan-based testbed that consists of hybrid nodes, each of which contain one NVIDIA Fermi GPU and one Interlagos CPU . So in essence, the applications were tested on the same two systems, one of which replaced the second CPU with a GPU in each node. Here are the results:

Application

Performance

XK6 vs XE6

Software Framework

S3D

Turbulent combustion

1.4 OpenACC

NAMD

Molecular dynamics

1.4 CUDA

CP2K

Chemical physics

1.5  CUDA

CAM-SE

Community atmosphere model

1.5 PGI CUDA Fortran

WL-LSMS

Statistical mechanics of magnetic materials

1.6  CUDA

GTC/GTC-GPU

Plasma physics for fusion energy

 1.6  CUDA

 SPECFEM-3D

Seismology

 2.5  CUDA

 QMCPACK

Electronic structure of materials

 3.0  CUDA

 LAMMPS

Molecular dynamics

 3.2  CUDA

 Denovo

3D neutron transport for nuclear reactors

 3.3  CUDA

 Chroma

Lattice quantum chromodynamics

 6.1  CUDA

According to this, the Fermi GPU-equipped XK6 was able to extract between 140 and 610 percent of the application performance compared to the CPU-only XE6. As CSCS director Thomas Schulthess observed at the symposium, that takes into account the fact the Interlagos Opteron is a new x86 processor, while Fermi is a two-year-old design. The implication is that the upcoming Kepler K20 GPU, which is supposed to be available later this year (and which will be deployed in Titan and Blue Waters), should widen the CPU-GPU performance gap even more.

“It’s going to be interesting to see in the next few years if there’s going to be a small avalanche, or is a big avalanche coming that’s really going to revolutionize computational science.” said Schulthess.

Even though the researchers provided an apples-to-apples comparison from a hardware perspective, the application software implementation for the two architectures is, by definition, rather different. Although the report did not delve too deeply into the software frameworks, most of these GPU codes incorporated CUDA or CUDA-based libraries. Only two of the applications, CAM-SE and S3D, used a higher level programming approach: PGI’s CUDA Fortran compiler for CAM-SE and OpenACC directives (compiler unknown) for the S3D implementation. Neither of these did particularly well, relative to the performance increases for the other applications, but there are not enough examples here to make any generalizations.

The other thing to keep in mind is that is no guarantee that the code implementations for either the CPU-only or hybrid versions are optimal at extracting the maximum performance from the silicon. A Fermi-class Tesla M2090 module delivers 665 gigaflops of peak performance, which is about 5 or 6 times that of a high-end Opteron 6200. The only code that appeared to fully exploit the performance advantage of the GPU was Chroma, the code for high energy and nuclear physics. Since applications vary significantly in their potential to utilize a highly threaded architecture like a GPU, this should come as no surprise.

Another aspect that needs to be taken into account is power usage. Although the performance comparison between the two processors is a useful one, if codes can scale equally well on a CPU as a GPU, performance per watt becomes a more valid criteria. Since these GPU accelerators consume about twice the power of a high-end x86 under full load, that means each hybrid node uses 50 percent more power than the corresponding CPU-only one when those systems are running at peak.

That suggests that the GPU-accelerated version of these codes should probably run at least 1.5 times as fast in this configuration to keep performance per watt in line. (Note that half of these codes are clustered around that break-even point.) To be fair, that’s not precisely true, since when the graphics engine is not being fully utilized it won’t be drawing anything near its maximum wattage; in general the GPU is much more efficient at throughput computing than its CPU brethren. But the fact remains that the power-performance behavior of the codes needs to be factored in when you’re considering the advantages of GPU acceleration.

Another missing piece of this comparison is how well these same applications would run on NVIDIA’s HPC competition, namely Intel’s Xeon Phi (aka MIC) coprocessor and its very different software ecosystem. Of course, there is no Xeon Phi yet, so that comparison can’t yet be made. But by this time next year, teraflop-capable MIC and Kepler chips should be in crunching away at applications on production machines. At that point, the case for accelerated science codes could be even more compelling.

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!

HPC in Life Sciences Part 1: CPU Choices, Rise of Data Lakes, Networking Challenges, and More

February 21, 2019

For the past few years HPCwire and leaders of BioTeam, a research computing consultancy specializing in life sciences, have convened to examine the state of HPC (and now AI) use in life sciences. Without HPC writ large, modern life sciences research would quickly grind to a halt. It’s true most life sciences research computing... Read more…

By John Russell

Arm Unveils Neoverse N1 Platform with up to 128-Cores

February 20, 2019

Following on its Neoverse roadmap announcement last October, Arm today revealed its next-gen Neoverse microarchitecture with compute and throughput-optimized silicon designs catered toward general-purpose cloud computing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Internet of Criminal Things—Trust in the Gods but Verify!

February 20, 2019

“Are we under attack?” asked Professor Elmarie Biermann of the Cyber Security Institute during the recent South African Centre for High Performance Computing’s (CHPC) National Conference in Cape Town. A quick show Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture: How to Power a Cloud

Learn how HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture provide critical infrastructure for leading Nordic HPC provider’s HPCFLOW cloud service.

powercloud_blog.jpgFor decades, HPE has been at the forefront of high-performance computing, and we’ve powered some of the fastest and most robust supercomputers in the world. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

The Perils of Becoming Trapped in the Cloud

Terms like ‘open systems’ have been bandied about for decades. While modern computer systems are relatively open compared to their predecessors, there are still plenty of opportunities to become locked into proprietary interfaces. Read more…

Machine Learning Takes Heat for Science’s Reproducibility Crisis

February 19, 2019

Scientists are raising red flags about the accuracy and reproducibility of conclusions drawn by machine learning frameworks. Among the remedies are developing new ML systems that can question their own predictions, show Read more…

By George Leopold

HPC in Life Sciences Part 1: CPU Choices, Rise of Data Lakes, Networking Challenges, and More

February 21, 2019

For the past few years HPCwire and leaders of BioTeam, a research computing consultancy specializing in life sciences, have convened to examine the state of HPC (and now AI) use in life sciences. Without HPC writ large, modern life sciences research would quickly grind to a halt. It’s true most life sciences research computing... Read more…

By John Russell

Arm Unveils Neoverse N1 Platform with up to 128-Cores

February 20, 2019

Following on its Neoverse roadmap announcement last October, Arm today revealed its next-gen Neoverse microarchitecture with compute and throughput-optimized si Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Insights from Optimized Codes on Cineca’s Marconi

February 15, 2019

What can you do with 381,392 CPU cores? For Cineca, it means enabling computational scientists to expand a large part of the world’s body of knowledge from the nanoscale to the astronomic, from calculating quantum effects in new materials to supporting bioinformatics for advanced healthcare research to screening millions of possible chemical combinations to attack a deadly virus. Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

UC Berkeley Paper Heralds Rise of Serverless Computing in the Cloud – Do You Agree?

February 13, 2019

Almost exactly ten years to the day from publishing of their widely-read, seminal paper on cloud computing, UC Berkeley researchers have issued another ambitious examination of cloud computing - Cloud Programming Simplified: A Berkeley View on Serverless Computing. The new work heralds the rise of ‘serverless computing’ as the next dominant phase of cloud computing. Read more…

By John Russell

Iowa ‘Grows Its Own’ to Fill the HPC Workforce Pipeline

February 13, 2019

The global workforce that supports advanced computing, scientific software and high-speed research networks is relatively small when you stop to consider the magnitude of the transformative discoveries it empowers. Technical conferences provide a forum where specialists convene to learn about the latest innovations and schedule face-time with colleagues from other institutions. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

Trump Signs Executive Order Launching U.S. AI Initiative

February 11, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) today launching a U.S Artificial Intelligence Initiative. The new initiative - Maintaining American L Read more…

By John Russell

Celebrating Women in Science: Meet Four Women Leading the Way in HPC

February 11, 2019

One only needs to look around at virtually any CS/tech conference to realize that women are underrepresented, and that holds true of HPC. SC hosts over 13,000 H Read more…

By AJ Lauer

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Reportedly in $6B Bid for Mellanox

January 30, 2019

The latest rumors and reports around an acquisition of Mellanox focus on Intel, which has reportedly offered a $6 billion bid for the high performance interconn Read more…

By Doug Black

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Looking for Light Reading? NSF-backed ‘Comic Books’ Tackle Quantum Computing

January 28, 2019

Still baffled by quantum computing? How about turning to comic books (graphic novels for the well-read among you) for some clarity and a little humor on QC. The Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep500: ETH Researchers Introduce New Deep Learning Benchmark for HPC

February 5, 2019

ETH researchers have developed a new deep learning benchmarking environment – Deep500 – they say is “the first distributed and reproducible benchmarking s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Confirms 48-Core Cascade Lake-AP for 2019

November 4, 2018

As part of the run-up to SC18, taking place in Dallas next week (Nov. 11-16), Intel is doling out info on its next-gen Cascade Lake family of Xeon processors, specifically the “Advanced Processor” version (Cascade Lake-AP), architected for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and infrastructure-as-a-service workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This