My Supercomputer is Bigger Than Yours!

By Andrew Jones

June 18, 2013

Once again, China officially has the fastest supercomputer in the world. All the careful preparations of marketing departments throughout the HPC community leading up to ISC were rendered mute, as the usual slurry of ISC’13 “me too” press releases were blown aside by the revelation of Tianhe-2’s 50+ petaFLOPS.

Chinese supercomputing had again sprung from rumors to deliver the harsh reality that the USA was no longer home to the most powerful known supercomputer in the world. China’s new supercomputer is not only faster than the USA’s leading contenders – it is twice as fast. And, to pour salt into the American wounds, Tianhe-2 is not a stunt machine with buckets of cheap FLOPS lashed together with just enough wet string to run Linpack. It is a custom designed supercomputer combining next generation Chinese interconnect technology with American CPUs and HPC coprocessors.

The USA’s HPC community seems unsure whether to hide under the duvet and try to reassure themselves of American HPC leadership by quoting other metrics, or to seize upon this opportunity to demonstrate to their government masters how other nations are aggressively pursuing supercomputing and thus focus their efforts on securing funding for exascale and other future HPC needs. Meanwhile, the European HPC community enjoys a hint of smugness that the USA’s leadership has been taken away, smothered by an uncomfortable knowledge that such a feat is unlikely to ever be achieved by Europe.

Having a more powerful supercomputer is not merely useful for “mine is bigger than yours” contests – a more powerful supercomputer can deliver more science and engineering in a given time than a smaller system through sheer capacity. It can enable major advances in science and engineering through capability – exploring the leading edge of what is possible with modeling and simulation at scale. It can inspire a generation of users to pursue computational science and engineering. It can inspire a computing technology industry and wider commercial applications of HPC.

Indeed, a more powerful supercomputer is so important that nearly everyone who has a supercomputer tries to find criteria such that theirs is the leading system in a given category, whether “fastest commercial system”, “biggest academically owned system”, or whatever.

Yes, size matters.

But – what if size did not matter? Pretend that all supercomputers were the same size and couldn’t be made bigger. Or perhaps they were all so big and cheap that any user could get as much resource as they needed with zero wait.

In this obtuse reality, the size of the supercomputer no longer correlates to the capacity or capability of science that can be achieved.

What would matter? Other parts of the ecosystem would become the enablers of computational leadership, to produce the leading edge science and engineering, and the resulting economic benefits. Software, people, applications, etc. would become the differentiators.

The researchers who could lead the way in a given computational field would no longer be the ones who had access to the biggest machine, but the ones who could make best use of the same machine size as everyone else. That might mean the most scalable code, or the fastest code for a given problem size, or the most robust and accurate code. It might mean the group who had the best skills strategy to ensure continued development of the computational skills within their group.

Companies could not secure a competitive advantage through computing capacity – they would have to seek better algorithms (scalable, accurate, validated, …) and better investment in the people (developers and users) who could turn computational applications into business results.

How might today’s familiar international competitiveness arguments change in this weird world? There would be no point urging governments to fund development of technology (our pretend world assumes hardware can never be the differentiator). Evoking national pride by deploying bigger systems than rival countries would be impossible. The national need to pursue competitiveness could only be serviced by supporting the development of algorithms, computational methods, scalable software engineering, scientific applications, etc. – and above all a pipeline of computationally aware people/skills.

How would a Top500 equivalent work in this world? (Because there would still be a natural human need to measure progress and compare with other computational users.) I have no answer to this – but it is probably a critical question (even in the real world, not just my pretend world) – how to measure supercomputing capability if not by anything directly correlated to size of the machine?

Instead of tracking roadmaps from hardware vendors, technology planning might consist more of algorithm roadmaps, software implementation roadmaps, recruitment & mentoring proposals, etc.

Ultimately, nothing in the ranking of supercomputing players would change – the richest countries and companies would still be the winners as they could invest more strongly in people (basic methods research, software engineering, science applications, etc.). Some countries/companies would “punch above their weight” – those who understood the need to invest in the right things and did so with more commitment than their rivals. (How is that different to the real world?)

Indeed, perhaps that is where my little “size doesn’t matter” experiment leads me – to conclude that the leadership in supercomputing (and thus the benefits to research, innovation, economic impact, etc.) will always belong to those who understand what supercomputing can do, along with how to do it better – and then act on that understanding.

 

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!

Google Cloud Makes Good on Promise to Add Nvidia P100 GPUs

September 21, 2017

Google has taken down the notice on its cloud platform website that says Nvidia Tesla P100s are “coming soon.” That's because the search giant has announced the beta launch of the high-end P100 Nvidia Tesla GPUs on t Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Wins $48M Supercomputer Contract from KISTI

September 21, 2017

It was a good day for Cray which won a $48 million contract from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) for a 128-rack CS500 cluster supercomputer. The new system, equipped with Intel Xeon Scal Read more…

By John Russell

Adolfy Hoisie to Lead Brookhaven’s Computing for National Security Effort

September 21, 2017

Brookhaven National Laboratory announced today that Adolfy Hoisie will chair its newly formed Computing for National Security department, which is part of Brookhaven’s new Computational Science Initiative (CSI). Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

PNNL’s Center for Advanced Tech Evaluation Seeks Wider HPC Community Ties

September 21, 2017

Two years ago the Department of Energy established the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). CENATE’s ambitious mission was to be a proving ground for near- Read more…

By John Russell

Stanford University and UberCloud Achieve Breakthrough in Living Heart Simulations

September 21, 2017

Cardiac arrhythmia can be an undesirable and potentially lethal side effect of drugs. During this condition, the electrical activity of the heart turns chaotic, Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud, and Francisco Sahli, Stanford University

PNNL’s Center for Advanced Tech Evaluation Seeks Wider HPC Community Ties

September 21, 2017

Two years ago the Department of Energy established the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). CENAT Read more…

By John Russell

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National Laboratory. Kothe is a 32-year veteran of DOE’s National Laboratory System. Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conference in Barcelona. In conjunction with her presentation, Yelick agreed to a short Q&A discussion with HPCwire. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

Cubes, Culture, and a New Challenge: Trish Damkroger Talks about Life at Intel—and Why HPC Matters More Than Ever

September 13, 2017

Trish Damkroger wasn’t looking to change jobs when she attended SC15 in Austin, Texas. Capping a 15-year career within Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, she was acting Associate Director for Computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Her mission was to equip the lab’s scientists and research partners with resources that would advance their cutting-edge work... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

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

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

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

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

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

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

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

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

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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