Supercomputers: Still the King of the HPC Hill

By Alex Woodie

June 17, 2013

The advent of low-power mobile processors and cloud delivery models is changing the economics of computing. But just as an economy car is good at different things than a full size truck, an HPC workload still has certain computing demands that neither the fastest smartphone nor the most elastic cloud cluster can fulfill.

While some supercomputers today use low-power processors that were originally designed to power smartphones, that does not mean that a smartphone is a supercomputer. It should go without saying, but people really love their phones today and imagine they posses super powers.

“I often hear the saying, ‘My cellphone is a supercomputer because it’s just as fast, or faster, than a supercomputer was 30 years ago,'” says Barry Bolding, Cray’s vice president of storage and data management and corporate marketing, in a blog post on the Cray website.

Not so fast, Bolding says. “Believe it or not, you still cannot predict a tornado on a cellphone; it just won’t work. You need a supercomputer for that type of scientific prognostication. While today’s smartphones are, well, smart, they’re not that smart.”

The same holds true for cloud clusters, Bolding says. While today’s new cloud clusters can amass much more computing power than an iPhone–and perhaps deliver more CPU cycles than some supercomputers–they still don’t work well for HPC workloads. It all comes down to finding the best tool for the HPC job, Bolding says.

The Cray exec says that HPC systems like the Cray XC30, Cray XC30-AC, and Cray CS300 are targeted at heavy-duty scientific and engineering workloads. “What makes them supercomputers is that they can do work that cloud-clusters either cannot do, or are clumsy and inefficient for,” Bolding says.

“Weather prediction, turbulent airflow in aircraft engines, and high resolution seismic modeling are supercomputer workloads,” says Bolding, who has been with Cray for 21 years and holds Ph.D in chemical physics from Stanford University. “Grinding out the most accurate forecast every few hours, simulating accurate combustion and investing in the right oil/gas drilling site are all critical, production workloads. This is where Cray’s computing solutions shine.”

Bolding uses a car analogy to illustrate the differences. A ZipCar may be great for somebody who only occasionally needs a car, but it doesn’t make sense for somebody who needs a car everyday. If you need to move lots of people but still don’t want to buy a car, a bus (i.e. cloud cluster) provides lots of capacity at low cost, he says.

For somebody who needs their own car everyday, neither the bus nor the ZipCar make much sense. Once one decided they need a car, there are many to choose from. A Toyota Prius, for example, excels at economical transportation of people, while a Toyota Tundra excels at transporting lots of stuff. Supercomputers are similar.

“Fit the right computing model to the right application and you will be happy. Try to fit a production supercomputing application into a cloud-cluster and you will be sorely disappointed,” Bolding concludes. “Remember, the supercomputer of 30 years ago is a terrible cellphone and the cloud-cluster of today is not a supercomputer.”

Related Articles

TACC Longhorn Takes On Natural Language Processing

Australia Buys Cray Supercomputer to Model New Submarine

North-German Supercomputing Alliance Commissions Cray

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!

Live and in Color, Meet the European Student Cluster Teams

November 21, 2017

The SC17 Student Cluster Competition welcomed two teams from Europe, the German team of FAU/TUC and Team Poland, the pride of Warsaw. Let's get to know them better through the miracle of video..... Team FAU/TUC is a c Read more…

By Dan Olds

SC17 Student Cluster Kick Off – Guts, Glory, Grep

November 21, 2017

The SC17 Student Cluster Competition started with a well-orchestrated kick-off emceed by Stephen Harrell, the competition chair. It began with a welcome from SC17 chair Bernd Mohr, where he lauded the competition for Read more…

By Dan Olds

Activist Investor Starboard Buys 10.7% Stake in Mellanox; Sale Possible?

November 20, 2017

Starboard Value has reportedly taken a 10.7 percent stake in interconnect specialist Mellanox Technologies, and according to the Wall Street Journal, has urged the company “to improve its margins and stock and explore Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Harness Scalable Petabyte Storage with HPE Apollo 4510 and HPE StoreEver

As a growing number of connected devices challenges IT departments to rapidly collect, manage, and store troves of data, organizations must adopt a new generation of IT to help them operate quickly and intelligently. Read more…

Installation of Sierra Supercomputer Steams Along at LLNL

November 20, 2017

Sierra, the 125 petaflops (peak) machine based on IBM’s Power9 chip being built at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, sometimes takes a back seat to Summit, the ~200 petaflops system being built at Oak Ridge Natio Read more…

By John Russell

Live and in Color, Meet the European Student Cluster Teams

November 21, 2017

The SC17 Student Cluster Competition welcomed two teams from Europe, the German team of FAU/TUC and Team Poland, the pride of Warsaw. Let's get to know them bet Read more…

By Dan Olds

SC17 Student Cluster Kick Off – Guts, Glory, Grep

November 21, 2017

The SC17 Student Cluster Competition started with a well-orchestrated kick-off emceed by Stephen Harrell, the competition chair. It began with a welcome from Read more…

By Dan Olds

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster LINPACK Record Shattered! More LINs Packed Than Ever before!

November 16, 2017

Nanyang Technological University, the pride of Singapore, utterly destroyed the Student Cluster Competition LINPACK record by posting a score of 51.77 TFlop/s a Read more…

By Dan Olds

Hyperion Market Update: ‘Decent’ Growth Led by HPE; AI Transparency a Risk Issue

November 15, 2017

The HPC market update from Hyperion Research (formerly IDC) at the annual SC conference is a business and social “must,” and this year’s presentation at S Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Focuses Its Cloud Containers on HPC Applications

November 14, 2017

Having migrated its top-of-the-line datacenter GPU to the largest cloud vendors, Nvidia is touting its Volta architecture for a range of scientific computing ta Read more…

By George Leopold

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

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

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he 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

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

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

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

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

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

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

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released 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

Share This