Chasing 1000X: The Future of Supercomputing Is Unbalanced

By Andrew Jones

October 10, 2012

Our supercomputing community is the world of 1000X. That is how we introduce ourselves – “think thousands of times more powerful than your laptop.” We proudly proclaim our thousands of cores, nodes, kilowatts, gigabytes, cables, and so on.

We even measure our progress by 1000X: the terascale barrier (“smashed” according to the tone of the accompanying press release) then a 1000X to the petascale barrier (“shattered” as the marketing machine informed us) and now chasing 1000X to the exascale barrier (which will be “cataclysmically destroyed” I presume).

These barriers are fun, but nonsense. Obviously 1.01 petaflops of computing power is not disruptively more capable than 0.99 petaflops, nor is it qualitatively more technically challenging. So perhaps the better description is “crept past the terascale marker” and “sauntered by the petascale signpost?”

As a community we have, for several decades now, developed technologies and deployed systems that have grown through the real challenges identified for each 1000X increment. And we have done this so effectively that each “barrier” is very soft by the time we come to deploy systems of that size. That doesn’t undermine the technical challenges involved in each case, nor the efforts of those who have mastered those challenges. But they have mostly been solved by aggressive evolution incited by the occasional disruptive kick in the behind.

Even though we use 1000X as our badge of meaningful advance, we can be very narrow in how we apply that across the breadth of our empire. We mostly tie it to speed or size of the machines – a thousand times faster or bigger. We are starting to grow group behavior for some other uses, for example, 1000X more power efficient. But we are still focusing on the machines.

Performance is fundamental to the value proposition of high performance computing, whether 10X or 1000X. And even in the case of 1000X performance, there is much more we can explore than we do now. The obvious opportunity is to recognize that such performance is most effectively obtained not from hardware alone, but also from innovation in algorithms and software implementation.

I regularly write on this topic at my blog and speak on this topic at conferences and private events. But at one recent IDC HPC User Forum the conversation turned to one of my other favorite themes on what we can do better.

There is much more to our community that we should look at for step change, innovation and leadership than purely performance. Why do we not target the same 1000X in other areas? Think of the benefits of supercomputing, at any scale, being a thousand-fold easier to use. Not benefits to the existing hardcore tweakers of MPI, since these folks don’t need (or even desire?) easy to use. They need performance and the flexibility of direct access to the capabilities.

What about the benefits to everyone else? And I said users. Not programmers. Not all users of HPC are programmers (a working assumption that supercomputer centers often default to). Many users of HPC just run applications. Someone else has done the programming for them, either in-house development teams or codes from commercial providers or other research groups, etc.

How different is our ease-of-use experience with other computing technology? Think of your laptop for office tasks; your tablet computer for consuming Web and media content; and your smartphone for processing emails. Compare those user experiences with HPC.

We take something with a thousand times the compute power and make it harder – even arcane – to use! A significant portion of the computer power on those consumer devices is applied to the user interaction experience. Surely, with a few spare tens of teraflops to play with – only a few percent of our petascale supercomputers – we can come up with a more human-friendly interaction than batch scripts. No, it won’t be more efficient. Tough!

Our community has chased efficiency in utilization of the compute resource arguably way beyond its cost-benefit pay-off and into the realm of limiting the potential of the systems/services for flexibility in use cases and attractiveness to new users.
And that brings me to another 1000X: the growth of HPC to a thousand times more users. Pick your favorite label of the year: personal supercomputing (possibly self-contradictory), missing middle (who wants to be someone else’s middle?), HPC for the masses (are we talking revolutions?), democratization of HPC (in my view the worst label of the lot – HPC shouldn’t be worrying about democracy or not), and so on. This user growth is how the technology, or rather, its core proposition, can benefit society and the economy with much more immediate, widespread and direct impact.

Driving the 500 fastest supercomputers in the world to a thousand times their performance does deliver value to the economy and society. Not just through the computing technology advances they inspire and require, but especially through the scientific, medical and engineering advances their use enables. But each new group of engineers and scientists that are able to exploit effective modeling and simulation in their research and design can invigorate their contribution to the economy.

Multiply these individual effects by 1000X and we might see light shining into the knowledge economy that is the dream of politicians the world over. Creating and sustaining a high-tech economy doesn’t happen by a handful of leadership supercomputers used by the few. It happens by doing that and also enabling 1000X more companies to use HPC techniques. Both upward and outward are needed.

Our existing HPC community has to play its role in this. We cannot just focus on driving the fastest machines a thousand times faster. Critically, we have to give equal peer recognition to those who focus on driving the use of the technology a thousand times broader and a thousand times easier to use.

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!

ISC19 Cluster Competition: Application Results, Finally!

July 15, 2019

Our exhaustive coverage of the ISC19 Student Cluster Competition continues as we discuss the application scores below. While the scores were typically high, some of the apps, like SWIFT and OpenFOAM, really pushed the st Read more…

By Dan Olds

Portugal Launches Its First Supercomputer

July 12, 2019

Portugal has officially inaugurated its first-ever supercomputer. The unassumingly named “Bob” supercomputer is housed in the Minho Advanced Computer Center (MACC) at the University of Minho.  Bob was announced i Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

What’s New in HPC Research: Traffic Simulation, Performance Variations, Scheduling & More

July 11, 2019

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

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.

For 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

How AI Powers Up Data Management and Analytics

Companies are making more decisions based on data. However, the ability to intelligently process the growing volume of data is a bottleneck to extracting actionable insights. Read more…

Nvidia Expands DGX-Ready AI Program to 19 Countries

July 11, 2019

Nvidia’s DGX-Ready Data Center Program, announced in January and designed to provide colo and public cloud-like options to access the company’s GPU-powered servers for AI workloads, has expanded the program beyond th Read more…

By Doug Black

ISC19 Cluster Competition: Application Results, Finally!

July 15, 2019

Our exhaustive coverage of the ISC19 Student Cluster Competition continues as we discuss the application scores below. While the scores were typically high, som Read more…

By Dan Olds

Nvidia Expands DGX-Ready AI Program to 19 Countries

July 11, 2019

Nvidia’s DGX-Ready Data Center Program, announced in January and designed to provide colo and public cloud-like options to access the company’s GPU-powered Read more…

By Doug Black

Argonne Team Makes Record Globus File Transfer

July 10, 2019

A team of scientists at Argonne National Laboratory has broken a data transfer record by moving a staggering 2.9 petabytes of data for a research project.  The data – from three large cosmological simulations – was generated and stored on the Summit supercomputer at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF)... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia, Google Tie in Second MLPerf Training ‘At-Scale’ Round

July 10, 2019

Results for the second round of the AI benchmarking suite known as MLPerf were published today with Google Cloud and Nvidia each picking up three wins in the at Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Applied Materials Embedding New Memory Technologies in Chips

July 9, 2019

Applied Materials, the $17 billion Santa Clara-based materials engineering company for the semiconductor industry, today announced manufacturing systems enablin Read more…

By Doug Black

ISC19 Cluster Competition: HPCC Deep Dive

July 7, 2019

The biggest benchmark the student warriors tackled during the ISC19 Student Cluster Competition was the colossal HPC Challenge. This is a collection of benchmar Read more…

By Dan Olds

OLCF Bids Farewell to Its Titan Supercomputer

July 4, 2019

After seven years of faithful service, and a long reign as the United States' fastest supercomputer, the Cray XK7-based Titan supercomputer at the Oak Ridge Lea Read more…

By Staff report

Quantum Bits: Neven’s Law (Who Asked for That), D-Wave’s Steady Push, IBM’s Li-O2- Simulation

July 3, 2019

Quantum computing’s (QC) many-faceted R&D train keeps slogging ahead and recently Japan is taking a leading role. Yesterday D-Wave Systems announced it ha Read more…

By John Russell

High Performance (Potato) Chips

May 5, 2006

In this article, we focus on how Procter & Gamble is using high performance computing to create some common, everyday supermarket products. Tom Lange, a 27-year veteran of the company, tells us how P&G models products, processes and production systems for the betterment of consumer package goods. Read more…

By Michael Feldman

Cray, AMD to Extend DOE’s Exascale Frontier

May 7, 2019

Cray and AMD are coming back to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to partner on the world’s largest and most expensive supercomputer. The Department of Energy’s Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphene Surprises Again, This Time for Quantum Computing

May 8, 2019

Graphene is fascinating stuff with promise for use in a seeming endless number of applications. This month researchers from the University of Vienna and Institu Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Verifies Its Largest 7nm Chip Design in Ten Hours

June 5, 2019

AMD announced last week that its engineers had successfully executed the first physical verification of its largest 7nm chip design – in just ten hours. The AMD Radeon Instinct Vega20 – which boasts 13.2 billion transistors – was tested using a TSMC-certified Calibre nmDRC software platform from Mentor. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

It’s Official: Aurora on Track to Be First US Exascale Computer in 2021

March 18, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy along with Intel and Cray confirmed today that an Intel/Cray supercomputer, "Aurora," capable of sustained performance of one exaf Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TSMC and Samsung Moving to 5nm; Whither Moore’s Law?

June 12, 2019

With reports that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TMSC) and Samsung are moving quickly to 5nm manufacturing, it’s a good time to again ponder whither goes the venerable Moore’s law. Shrinking feature size has of course been the primary hallmark of achieving Moore’s law... Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Competitors Stalk Nvidia

May 14, 2019

There is no shortage of processing architectures emerging to accelerate deep learning workloads, with two more options emerging this week to challenge GPU leader Nvidia. First, Intel researchers claimed a new deep learning record for image classification on the ResNet-50 convolutional neural network. Separately, Israeli AI chip startup Hailo.ai... Read more…

By George Leopold

Nvidia Embraces Arm, Declares Intent to Accelerate All CPU Architectures

June 17, 2019

As the Top500 list was being announced at ISC in Frankfurt today with an upgraded petascale Arm supercomputer in the top third of the list, Nvidia announced its Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Why Nvidia Bought Mellanox: ‘Future Datacenters Will Be…Like High Performance Computers’

March 14, 2019

“Future datacenters of all kinds will be built like high performance computers,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang during a phone briefing on Monday after Nvidia revealed scooping up the high performance networking company Mellanox for $6.9 billion. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Top500 Purely Petaflops; US Maintains Performance Lead

June 17, 2019

With the kick-off of the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt this morning, the 53rd Top500 list made its debut, and this one's for petafl Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Cascade Lake Xeons with Up to 56 Cores

April 2, 2019

At Intel's Data-Centric Innovation Day in San Francisco (April 2), the company unveiled its second-generation Xeon Scalable (Cascade Lake) family and debuted it Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray – and the Cray Brand – to Be Positioned at Tip of HPE’s HPC Spear

May 22, 2019

More so than with most acquisitions of this kind, HPE’s purchase of Cray for $1.3 billion, announced last week, seems to have elements of that overused, often Read more…

By Doug Black and Tiffany Trader

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Hardware That Powered the Black Hole Image

June 24, 2019

Two months ago, the first-ever image of a black hole took the internet by storm. A team of scientists took years to produce and verify the striking image – an Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Announcing four new HPC capabilities in Google Cloud Platform

April 15, 2019

When you’re running compute-bound or memory-bound applications for high performance computing or large, data-dependent machine learning training workloads on Read more…

By Wyatt Gorman, HPC Specialist, Google Cloud; Brad Calder, VP of Engineering, Google Cloud; Bart Sano, VP of Platforms, Google Cloud

Chinese Company Sugon Placed on US ‘Entity List’ After Strong Showing at International Supercomputing Conference

June 26, 2019

After more than a decade of advancing its supercomputing prowess, operating the world’s most powerful supercomputer from June 2013 to June 2018, China is keep Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

In Wake of Nvidia-Mellanox: Xilinx to Acquire Solarflare

April 25, 2019

With echoes of Nvidia’s recent acquisition of Mellanox, FPGA maker Xilinx has announced a definitive agreement to acquire Solarflare Communications, provider Read more…

By Doug Black

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