Berkeley Lab Contemplates Stepping Stone to Exascale Supercomputer

By Michael Feldman

January 8, 2013

The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Berkeley Lab has recently begun installing Edison, the Cray supercomputer that will exceed two peak petaflops when its fully deployed in a couple of months. But the center is already prepping for its next-generation system, which is expected to be an order of magnitude more powerful. That supercomputer may be the center’s last big deployment prior to the exascale era.

That system, under the code name NERSC-8, is in its earliest stages. The RFI (Request For Information) for the system just went out in mid-December, with the RFP (Request For Proposal) is slated for the second quarter of 2013. If all goes as planned, NERSC-8 be awarded to some lucky vendor in the fourth quarter of the year, with system delivery expected to start before the end of 2015. System cost is expected to be in the range of $50 to $100 million

Since the last two big NERSC systems, Hopper (NERSC-6), an XE6 and now Edison (NERSC-7), an XC30, were both supplied by Cray, they would appear to be the odds on favorite to supply NERSC-8 as well. That’s not likely to prevent vendors like IBM and SGI from bidding on the system, especially since the RFP will actually specify two systems: the NERSC-8 one and “Trinity”, an NNSA supercomputer for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). That system is also slated for deployment in 2015.

No doubt the DOE is looking to save some money by combining the procurement between the labs. It’s a little bit of an odd arrangement though, inasmuch as NERSC is under the DOE’s Office of Science, while Los Alamos and Sandia are part of the agency’s National Nuclear Security Administration division. But their supercomputer refresh cycles are apparently close enough together to make a dual-purpose RFP a reasonable bet.

Also, the computing requirement of these labs seem to align closely enough to use the same platform. Like NERSC’s Hopper, the top supercomputer at LANL/SNL, dubbed Cielo, is also a Cray XE6 — yet another reason to believe that Cray has the inside track on this procurement. Unlike the open science Hopper however, Cielo supports classified codes for the US nuclear stockpile stewardship program.

Since these supercomputers will be installed in the 2015/2016 timeframe and are intended to run for four to six years, they represent the pre-cursor to the exascale machines planned for the end of the decade. And although NERSC-8 and Trinity are likely to be in the sub-100-petaflop range, they are the architectural stepping stones to those exaflop or near-exaflop machines five years further down the road.

The draft of the technical requirements for the NERSC-8/Trinity platform doesn’t specify peak (or Linpack) FLOPS. Performance requirements are described in terms of mini-application benchmarks provided by NERSC and, for Trinity, an ASC (Advanced Simulation and Computing) code suite.

The NERSC mini-apps are a set of codes that support a variety of science applications that aligns with the DOE’s mission, especially physics codes of various stripes, and climate modeling and analysis. With the mini-apps as the benchmark, the goal for NERSC-8 is to deliver a system that performs 10 to 30 times faster than Hopper. For Trinity, performance is expected to be 20 to 60 times faster.

An order of magnitude performance increase in three years is certainly doable in the fast-paced world of supercomputing. The biggest challenge, especially for NERSC, will be to provide a system that can bring along the 600 or so science applications that are currently running on the Berkeley hardware. Spread across around 5,000 users (the largest user base of any DOE center), these applications represent a considerable manpower investment in software.

This explains NERSC’s conservative approach of supercomputing architectures to date. Hopper, and now Edison, are CPU-only machines, so moving the code base between them will be relatively easy. According the Kathy Yelick, Associate Laboratory Director of Computing Sciences at NERSC, attending to the needs of hundreds of applications and thousands of users requires a different approach than centers with a more specialized user base. “There are things you can do if you’ve got 6 applications that you can not do if you’ve got 600,” she told HPCwire.

The problem is that the shortest and cheapest path to double-digit petaflops today involves add-on accelerators like GPUs and now Intel’s Xeon Phi coprocessors. But because these devices are remote from the CPU (connected via PCIe, without direct access to main memory), a significant amount of software work can be required to get codes to take advantage of the extra FLOPS. That’s why, with 600 applications in tow, NERSC has shied away from such systems.

Although NERSC is one of the largest labs for the DOE, its top system, Hopper, sits at number 19 on the TOP500, although when Edison come online it may briefly penetrate the top 10. Prestige aside, that’s resulted in a capacity gap for NERSC’s numerous users. According to Yelick, even with Edison their demand will be an order of magnitude greater than what they can provide. Ideally, she says, they would like to have a 10-petaflop system up and running today.

They could have built such a machine, but it would have required either discrete accelerators (a programming model they would rather skip) or something more proprietary like the Blue Gene platform (an architecture they have avoided). The hope is that by 2015, they will be able to get something on the exascale roadmap, but with a programming model that is reasonably friendly to CPU-based codes.

That most likely means integrated heterogeneous processors like NVIDIA’s “Project Denver” ARM-GPUs, AMD’s x86-GPU APUs, or whatever Intel brings to the table with integrated Xeon Phi coprocessing. Although more complex than a pure CPU solution from a software point of view, the integrated designs at least avoid the messy PCIe communication and the completely separate memory space of the accelerator device.

According to Yelick, they’re trying to take the middle path here. Her thinking is that if you switch programming models too early, the developers can get caught in an architectural cul-de-sac that will be replaced in a few years with something more general-purpose. But if you switch too late, your center and applications can become irrelevant. “It’s a complicated time to make these decisions,” says Yelick.

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!

PFAS Regulations, 3M Exit to Impact Two-Phase Cooling in HPC

January 27, 2023

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever chemicals,” pose a number of health risks to humans, with more suspected but not yet confirmed – and, as a result, PFAS are coming under increasing regu Read more…

Sweden Plans Expansion for Nvidia-Powered Berzelius Supercomputer

January 26, 2023

The Atos-built, Nvidia SuperPod-based Berzelius supercomputer – housed in and operated by Sweden’s Linköping-based National Supercomputer Centre (NSC) – is already no slouch. But now, Nvidia and NSC have announced Read more…

Multiverse, Pasqal, and Crédit Agricole Tout Progress Using Quantum Computing in FS

January 26, 2023

Europe-based quantum computing pioneers Multiverse Computing and Pasqal, and global bank Crédit Agricole CIB today announced successful conclusion of a 1.5-year POC study “to evaluate the contribution of an algorithmi Read more…

Critics Don’t Want Politicians Deciding the Future of Semiconductors

January 26, 2023

The future of the semiconductor industry was partially being decided last week by a mix of politicians, policy hawks and chip industry executives jockeying for influence at the World Economic Forum. Intel CEO Pat Gels Read more…

Riken Plans ‘Virtual Fugaku’ on AWS

January 26, 2023

The development of a national flagship supercomputer aimed at exascale computing continues to be a heated competition, especially in the United States, the European Union, China, and Japan. What is the value to be gained Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Shutterstock_1687123447

Numerix Scales HPC Workloads for Price and Risk Modeling Using AWS Batch

  • 180x improvement in analytics performance
  • Enhanced risk management
  • Decreased bottlenecks in analytics
  • Unlocked near-real-time analytics
  • Scaled financial analytics

Overview

Numerix, a financial technology company, needed to find a way to scale its high performance computing (HPC) solution as client portfolios ballooned in size. Read more…

Microsoft/NVIDIA Solution Channel

Shutterstock 1453953692

Microsoft and NVIDIA Experts Talk AI Infrastructure

As AI emerges as a crucial tool in so many sectors, it’s clear that the need for optimized AI infrastructure is growing. Going beyond just GPU-based clusters, cloud infrastructure that provides low-latency, high-bandwidth interconnects and high-performance storage can help organizations handle AI workloads more efficiently and produce faster results. Read more…

Supercomputer Research Predicts Extinction Cascade

January 25, 2023

The immediate impacts of climate change and land-use change are severe enough, but increasingly, researchers are warning that large enough changes can then snowball into catastrophic changes. New, supercomputer-powered r Read more…

PFAS Regulations, 3M Exit to Impact Two-Phase Cooling in HPC

January 27, 2023

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever chemicals,” pose a number of health risks to humans, with more suspected but not yet confirmed Read more…

Critics Don’t Want Politicians Deciding the Future of Semiconductors

January 26, 2023

The future of the semiconductor industry was partially being decided last week by a mix of politicians, policy hawks and chip industry executives jockeying for Read more…

Riken Plans ‘Virtual Fugaku’ on AWS

January 26, 2023

The development of a national flagship supercomputer aimed at exascale computing continues to be a heated competition, especially in the United States, the Euro Read more…

Shutterstock 1134313550

Semiconductor Companies Create Building Block for Chiplet Design

January 24, 2023

Intel's CEO Pat Gelsinger last week made a grand proclamation that chips will be for the next few decades what oil and gas was to the world over the last 50 years. While that remains to be seen, two technology associations are joining hands to develop building blocks to stabilize the development of future chip designs. The goal of the standard is to set the stage for a thriving marketplace that fuels... Read more…

Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1572060865

Fujitsu Study Says Quantum Decryption Threat Still Distant

January 23, 2023

Global computer and chip manufacturer Fujitsu today reported that a new study performed on its 39-qubit quantum simulator suggests it will remain difficult for Read more…

At ORNL, Jeff Smith Becomes Interim Director, as Search for Permanent Lab Chief Continues

January 20, 2023

UT-Battelle, which manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for the U.S. Department of Energy, has appointed Jeff Smith as interim director for the lab as t Read more…

Top HPC Players Creating New Security Architecture Amid Neglect

January 20, 2023

Security of high-performance computers is being neglected in the pursuit of horsepower, and there are concerns that the ignorance may be costly if safeguards ar Read more…

Ohio Supercomputer Center Debuts ‘Ascend’ GPU Cluster

January 19, 2023

Less than 10 months after it was announced, the Columbus-based Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) has debuted its Dell-built GPU cluster, “Ascend.” Designed to Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

SC22 Booth Videos

AMD @ SC22
Altair @ SC22
AWS @ SC22
Ayar Labs @ SC22
CoolIT @ SC22
Cornelis Networks @ SC22
DDN @ SC22
Dell Technologies @ SC22
HPE @ SC22
Intel @ SC22
Intelligent Light @ SC22
Lancium @ SC22
Lenovo @ SC22
Microsoft and NVIDIA @ SC22
One Stop Systems @ SC22
Penguin Solutions @ SC22
QCT @ SC22
Supermicro @ SC22
Tuxera @ SC22
Tyan Computer @ SC22
  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire