Revelations on Roadrunner’s Retirement

By Nicole Hemsoth

April 4, 2013

Earlier this week we reported on the decommissioning of the Roadrunner supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was being shuttered following a stint of fame as the first system to break the petascale barrier back in 2008.

According to Paul Henning from the computational physics division at Los Alamos, Roadrunner’s checkout made big news, but the end of the line for the super was well-planned, if not right on schedule.

The system served its purpose chewing a bevy of mostly classified and some key civilian code. However, in the end, the combination of a finite contract, an extinct chip, the cost of crumpling up code to fit into IBM’s Cell, and the promise of swifter, more efficient technologies were main factors in the planned clipped lifecycle of the petaflop pioneer.

“Rather than think of these machines as physical entities, we think of them as projects,” he explained. “At the beginning of the Roadrunner acquisition we laid out a project lifetime for this—and that lifetime considered a number of things, including the cost of maintenance, power, vendor and licensing contracts, and how we would upgrade the system.”

Henning detailed that the support contract with IBM was up and since they don’t even produce the core of the machine’s architecture, the Cell, the question of even scrounging up some spare parts would have presented a rather tricky issue. The retirement party had been planned years ago anyway, but there are some meaty learning opportunities to glean from the scrap metal.

When any system at the lab is shuttered, the autopsy, which looks at everything from the integrity of the memory and OS to the more nuts and bolts physical properties, is performed. A key finding of the post-mortem revolves around the condition of the boxes after five years of heat, wear and tear—it’s here where the materials analysis begins. It’s given the renowned materials science team at the center an insider’s view into the real stress on systems after high-yield, high-heat production—and from what we read between the lines, these boxes are maxed out.

Then again, there were never any plans to build the system out to new glory ala the Jaguar to Titan transformation. Anyway, even if the hardware wasn’t on its last, weak leg, considering they’d have to retrofit the entire system since IBM would return a 404 on their build-out needs, it makes sense that they’d want to rip…and of course, replace.

Currently, Los Alamos has sent its applications on a redirect course to the smaller, slightly more efficient and roughly performance-equivalent Cielo system, which is housed in the same space as the now-defunct Roadrunner. Henning said the developer-friendly architecture saves time and money on code retooling, ostensibly while they try to fit something new into their environment.

And so here is where things get interesting. Because we can speculate on what Los Alamos might dream up to fill the 6,000 square foot gap left behind. That’s a pretty large spate of empty space for any upstart system to settle into. Titan’s sprawl is right under 5,000 square feet and a lot of flops have fit in less than that.

There are a few hints at what might sit on the charred spot Roadrunner once occupied post-ripdown. However, it’s worth noting that a quick perusal of the NNSA’s procurement plans for the next year include something on the order of a $50 million to (yes) one billion dollar project, which is currently accepting proposals. And it’s kind of hard to imagine what else would be filed under tech procurements to that monetary tune. If any of you know anything about this, that comments section down there looks awfully empty….(hint, hint).

All speculation aside, it looks like we’ll find out soon enough—probably later this year—just what will turn off that vacancy sign at the lab. Until then, the Roadrunner story serves as a reminder about how quickly the tides of this type of tech shift and leave superhero machines drifting into forgotten waters.

When national labs and large HPC sites sit down to spill ink on new system designs, they’re hedging their bets on what future technologies will look like. It’s rare, unless folks are on a TACC/Stampede-like course to go from ground to super in a tick over a year, to know what innovations on the architecture, efficiency or acceleration front will yield big price-performance dividends. So at the time that Los Alamos set about architecting Roadrunner based on the very unique Cell approach, they were placing their bets on the future of that technology.

Since that development cycle, the rise of GPU acceleration, the introduction of the promising Phi, and some efficiency tweaks on the software side have rendered some of what made Roadrunner shine seem rather date. It’s now possible to get more compute power in a smaller power envelope…and with a lot less in the way of programming hassle, as well, notes Henning.  However, for the NNSA and Los Alamos, whatever the clandestine code was they cooked around the Cell, it must have been worth the effort on the retooling side.

Although the story of the Roadrunner being forced into retirement found its way into a number of mainstream tech media stories over the course of the week, this is a pretty standard order of operations for large HPC centers, especially national labs. Henning stressed that the shutdown of the once-famous system is not unlike the series of other supers they’ve shuttered in succession at the center. They build a plan for acquisition, see a machine run its course, learn from it post-mortem and shuttle it off in parts to make way for something fresh.

Related Articles

Requiem for Roadrunner

 

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!

Which Schools Produce the Top Coders in the World?

December 8, 2016

Ever wonder which universities worldwide produce the best coders? The answers may surprise you, at least as judged by the results of a competition posted yesterday on the HackerRank blog. Read more…

By John Russell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. The pilots, supported in part by DOE exascale funding, not only seek to do good by advancing cancer research and therapy but also to advance deep learning capabilities and infrastructure with an eye towards eventual use on exascale machines. Read more…

By John Russell

DDN Enables 50TB/Day Trans-Pacific Data Transfer for Yahoo Japan

December 6, 2016

Transferring data from one data center to another in search of lower regional energy costs isn’t a new concept, but Yahoo Japan is putting the idea into transcontinental effect with a system that transfers 50TB of data a day from Japan to the U.S., where electricity costs a quarter of the rates in Japan. Read more…

By Doug Black

Infographic Highlights Career of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

December 5, 2016

Dr. Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an early pioneer of computer science and one of the most famous women achievers in a field dominated by men. Read more…

By Staff

Ganthier, Turkel on the Dell EMC Road Ahead

December 5, 2016

Who is Dell EMC and why should you care? Glad you asked is Jim Ganthier’s quick response. Ganthier is SVP for validated solutions and high performance computing for the new (even bigger) technology giant Dell EMC following Dell’s acquisition of EMC in September. In this case, says Ganthier, the blending of the two companies is a 1+1 = 5 proposition. Not bad math if you can pull it off. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Embraces FPGAs, ‘Elastic’ GPUs

December 2, 2016

A new instance type rolled out this week by Amazon Web Services is based on customizable field programmable gate arrays that promise to strike a balance between performance and cost as emerging workloads create requirements often unmet by general-purpose processors. Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Dec. 1, 2016)

December 1, 2016

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. The pilots, supported in part by DOE exascale funding, not only seek to do good by advancing cancer research and therapy but also to advance deep learning capabilities and infrastructure with an eye towards eventual use on exascale machines. Read more…

By John Russell

Ganthier, Turkel on the Dell EMC Road Ahead

December 5, 2016

Who is Dell EMC and why should you care? Glad you asked is Jim Ganthier’s quick response. Ganthier is SVP for validated solutions and high performance computing for the new (even bigger) technology giant Dell EMC following Dell’s acquisition of EMC in September. In this case, says Ganthier, the blending of the two companies is a 1+1 = 5 proposition. Not bad math if you can pull it off. Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petabyte ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

Seagate-led SAGE Project Delivers Update on Exascale Goals

November 29, 2016

Roughly a year and a half after its launch, the SAGE exascale storage project led by Seagate has delivered a substantive interim report – Data Storage for Extreme Scale. Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE-SGI to Tackle Exascale and Enterprise Targets

November 22, 2016

At first blush, and maybe second blush too, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) purchase of SGI seems like an unambiguous win-win. SGI’s advanced shared memory technology, its popular UV product line (Hanna), deep vertical market expertise, and services-led go-to-market capability all give HPE a leg up in its drive to remake itself. Bear in mind HPE came into existence just a year ago with the split of Hewlett-Packard. The computer landscape, including HPC, is shifting with still unclear consequences. One wonders who’s next on the deal block following Dell’s recent merger with EMC. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Details AI Hardware Strategy for Post-GPU Age

November 21, 2016

Last week at SC16, Intel revealed its product roadmap for embedding its processors with key capabilities and attributes needed to take artificial intelligence (AI) to the next level. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Why 2016 Is the Most Important Year in HPC in Over Two Decades

August 23, 2016

In 1994, two NASA employees connected 16 commodity workstations together using a standard Ethernet LAN and installed open-source message passing software that allowed their number-crunching scientific application to run on the whole “cluster” of machines as if it were a single entity. Read more…

By Vincent Natoli, Stone Ridge Technology

IBM Advances Against x86 with Power9

August 30, 2016

After offering OpenPower Summit attendees a limited preview in April, IBM is unveiling further details of its next-gen CPU, Power9, which the tech mainstay is counting on to regain market share ceded to rival Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Beats Azure to K80 General Availability

September 30, 2016

Amazon Web Services has seeded its cloud with Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs to meet the growing demand for accelerated computing across an increasingly-diverse range of workloads. The P2 instance family is a welcome addition for compute- and data-focused users who were growing frustrated with the performance limitations of Amazon's G2 instances, which are backed by three-year-old Nvidia GRID K520 graphics cards. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Think Fast – Is Neuromorphic Computing Set to Leap Forward?

August 15, 2016

Steadily advancing neuromorphic computing technology has created high expectations for this fundamentally different approach to computing. Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale Computing Project Awards $39.8M to 22 Projects

September 7, 2016

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) hit an important milestone today with the announcement of its first round of funding, moving the nation closer to its goal of reaching capable exascale computing by 2023. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Gobbles SGI for Larger Slice of $11B HPC Pie

August 11, 2016

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced today that it will acquire rival HPC server maker SGI for $7.75 per share, or about $275 million, inclusive of cash and debt. The deal ends the seven-year reprieve that kept the SGI banner flying after Rackable Systems purchased the bankrupt Silicon Graphics Inc. for $25 million in 2009 and assumed the SGI brand. Bringing SGI into its fold bolsters HPE's high-performance computing and data analytics capabilities and expands its position... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ARM Unveils Scalable Vector Extension for HPC at Hot Chips

August 22, 2016

ARM and Fujitsu today announced a scalable vector extension (SVE) to the ARMv8-A architecture intended to enhance ARM capabilities in HPC workloads. Fujitsu is the lead silicon partner in the effort (so far) and will use ARM with SVE technology in its post K computer, Japan’s next flagship supercomputer planned for the 2020 timeframe. This is an important incremental step for ARM, which seeks to push more aggressively into mainstream and HPC server markets. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Debuts Power8 Chip with NVLink and Three New Systems

September 8, 2016

Not long after revealing more details about its next-gen Power9 chip due in 2017, IBM today rolled out three new Power8-based Linux servers and a new version of its Power8 chip featuring Nvidia’s NVLink interconnect. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Vectors: How the Old Became New Again in Supercomputing

September 26, 2016

Vector instructions, once a powerful performance innovation of supercomputing in the 1970s and 1980s became an obsolete technology in the 1990s. But like the mythical phoenix bird, vector instructions have arisen from the ashes. Here is the history of a technology that went from new to old then back to new. Read more…

By Lynd Stringer

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Silicon Photonics Chip, Previews Next-Gen Phi for AI

August 18, 2016

At the Intel Developer Forum, held in San Francisco this week, Intel Senior Vice President and General Manager Diane Bryant announced the launch of Intel's Silicon Photonics product line and teased a brand-new Phi product, codenamed "Knights Mill," aimed at machine learning workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Beyond von Neumann, Neuromorphic Computing Steadily Advances

March 21, 2016

Neuromorphic computing – brain inspired computing – has long been a tantalizing goal. The human brain does with around 20 watts what supercomputers do with megawatts. And power consumption isn’t the only difference. Fundamentally, brains ‘think differently’ than the von Neumann architecture-based computers. While neuromorphic computing progress has been intriguing, it has still not proven very practical. Read more…

By John Russell

Dell EMC Engineers Strategy to Democratize HPC

September 29, 2016

The freshly minted Dell EMC division of Dell Technologies is on a mission to take HPC mainstream with a strategy that hinges on engineered solutions, beginning with a focus on three industry verticals: manufacturing, research and life sciences. "Unlike traditional HPC where everybody bought parts, assembled parts and ran the workloads and did iterative engineering, we want folks to focus on time to innovation and let us worry about the infrastructure," said Jim Ganthier, senior vice president, validated solutions organization at Dell EMC Converged Platforms Solution Division. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Container App ‘Singularity’ Eases Scientific Computing

October 20, 2016

HPC container platform Singularity is just six months out from its 1.0 release but already is making inroads across the HPC research landscape. It's in use at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), where Singularity founder Gregory Kurtzer has worked in the High Performance Computing Services (HPCS) group for 16 years. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Micron, Intel Prepare to Launch 3D XPoint Memory

August 16, 2016

Micron Technology used last week’s Flash Memory Summit to roll out its new line of 3D XPoint memory technology jointly developed with Intel while demonstrating the technology in solid-state drives. Micron claimed its Quantx line delivers PCI Express (PCIe) SSD performance with read latencies at less than 10 microseconds and writes at less than 20 microseconds. Read more…

By George Leopold

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