A Small Company Builds a Big Supercomputer

By Richard L. Brandt

January 30, 2013

Atipa Technologies may not be on everyone’s radar. It’s a small Kansas company, a division of Microtech Computers, which makes everything from $700 desktop computers to Linux clusters for Atipa’s HPC systems.

It may end up on the radar soon. Atipa just got a big deal. It’s building a $17 million computer for a Department of Energy laboratory. That’s not bad for a Linux cluster company that survived a big shakeout in the Linux cluster business five years ago.

The Atipa computer is destined for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (ESML) at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington. It should go live by October. It replaces the Chinook, a 163 teraflops system that cost the lab $21.4 million five years ago. Moore’s Law marches on.

“We’re very excited,” says Dana Chang, vice president of technology at Atipa. “It’s a very important sale for us.”

The new computer is a 1,440-node system packed into 42 racks, with a theoretical peak processing speed of 3.4 petaflops and 2.7 petabytes of usable storage. That puts it just ahead of the 2.9 petaflops SuperMUC, built by IBM for the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Germany – number six on the November 2012 TOP500 list.

ESML has some specialized computing requirements. It is used by hundreds of researchers around the world to employ molecular-level theory for climate studies, genomics, biological analysis, chemical catalysis, and solid-state physics. It’s computationally-intense work and requires a lot of storage capability. On the Chinook, climate scientists and quantum chemists were using one core and using up all the memory they could get.

To provide that power, the Atipa computer relies heavily on Intel’s Xeon Phi MIC accelerators. Each of its 1,440 compute nodes use x86 processors and the Xeon Phi accelerators, plus 128 GB memory per node. Its 2.7 petabyte storage is a shared parallel filesystem with 60 GB per second read/write.

Atipa was able to create a system to meet the lab’s needs at a great price. “All the bids we received were very similar, not much differentiation [in specs,]” says William Shelton, Associate Director of EMSL. “Atipa had the lowest price. Price became the main selling point.”

DOE can drive very hard bargains, notes Chris Willard, chief research officer at Intersect360 Research. Although not a major supplier, Atipa has proved to be a survivor. “That PNNL would buy a system from a company like this is not surprising,” he says. “PNNL will often go with a smaller company, often because they provide more specialized bids” with tighter margins. Nevertheless, he thinks the price was a good one for the size of the system, and probably allows Atipa to realize a profit.

The computer is also another validation of Intel’s Xeon Phi accelerators – and accelerators in general. Intersect360’s Willard believes that the fact that a computer of this size is dependent on Xeon Phi takes the interest in accelerators in general up a notch. While there’s been a growing interest in accelerators over the past few years, many companies have still just been testing their capabilities. “Accelerators are moving from a technology that people are checking out to one that people are interested in buying in production systems,” he says.

Chang agrees. She says that the Xeon Phi was key to providing the necessary price/performance. “It absolutely reduced the cost per FLOPS,” she says. “It was the Intel Phi being more affordable while increasing the performance. And it will become more and more affordable in 2013. Customers are now showing a strong interest in getting an Intel Phi card.” Atipa has a long-standing relationship with both Intel and AMD as suppliers.

According to Chang and Dan Mantyla, HPC programmer at Atipa, there’s an advantage of being a smaller company rather than a giant public corporation with an eye on quarterly profits. “We’re such a small company, not tiny but not a big corporation, and we build every cluster on a per-customer basis,” says Mantyla. Chang adds that the company’s Midwest roots help. “People feel comfortable talking to us because we don’t have a big company attitude,” she says. “We’re from Kansas.”

This may not be the last interesting deal from the folks from Kansas. Chang confirms that Atipa has interest from other potential customers as well. “We have a few opportunities we’re working on,” she says. “We won’t know much until the next month or so.”

Whether or not those pan out, parent company Microtech computers can already make an interesting boast. It can say its computer selection includes everything from a $700 PC to a $17 million supercomputer.

Related Articles

ARM Muscles In on Intel’s Dominance in Datacenters

HPC Programming in the Age of Multicore: One Man’s View

Berkeley Lab Contemplates Stepping Stone to Exascale Supercomputer

Genome Analysis Center Selects Convey for Next-Gen Sequencing

SGI Announces Software Support for Xeon Phi

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!

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together about 30 participants from industry, government and academia t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Researchers Scale COSMO Climate Code to 4888 GPUs on Piz Daint

October 17, 2017

Effective global climate simulation, sorely needed to anticipate and cope with global warming, has long been computationally challenging. Two of the major obstacles are the needed resolution and prolonged time to compute Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Transforming Genomic Analytics with HPC-Accelerated Insights

Advancements in the field of genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of human biology, rapidly accelerating the discovery and treatment of genetic diseases, and dramatically improving human health. Read more…

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Cluster Competition coverage has come to its natural home: H Read more…

By Dan Olds

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Tapped to Build 37-Petaflops ABCI System for AIST

October 10, 2017

Fujitsu announced today it will build the long-planned AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) which is set to become the fastest supercomputer system in Japan Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Intel Debuts Programmable Acceleration Card

October 5, 2017

With a view toward supporting complex, data-intensive applications, such as AI inference, video streaming analytics, database acceleration and genomics, Intel i Read more…

By Doug Black

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

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

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

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