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!

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HPE to provide the DoD High Performance Computing Modernizatio Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Topological Quantum Superconductor Progress Reported

February 20, 2018

Overcoming sensitivity to decoherence is a persistent stumbling block in efforts to build effective quantum computers. Now, a group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) report progress in devisi Read more…

By John Russell

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. Even as these patches are rolled o Read more…

By Pete Beckman

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Safeguard Your HPC Environment with the World’s Most Secure Industry Standard Servers

Today’s organizations operate in an environment with ever-evolving threats, and in order to protect themselves they must continuously bolster their security strategy. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Intel® are addressing modern security challenges with the world’s most secure industry standard servers powered by the latest generation of Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Read more…

Intel Touts Silicon Spin Qubits for Quantum Computing

February 14, 2018

Debate around what makes a good qubit and how best to manufacture them is a sprawling topic. There are many insistent voices favoring one or another approach. Referencing a paper published today in Nature, Intel has offe Read more…

By John Russell

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Singularity HPC Container Start-Up – Sylabs – Emerges from Stealth

February 8, 2018

The driving force behind Singularity, the popular HPC container technology, is bringing the open source platform to the enterprise with the launch of a new vent Read more…

By George Leopold

Dell EMC Debuts PowerEdge Servers with AMD EPYC Chips

February 6, 2018

AMD notched another EPYC processor win today with Dell EMC’s introduction of three PowerEdge servers (R6415, R7415, and R7425) based on the EPYC 7000-series p Read more…

By John Russell

‘Next Generation’ Universe Simulation Is Most Advanced Yet

February 5, 2018

The research group that gave us the most detailed time-lapse simulation of the universe’s evolution in 2014, spanning 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution, is back in the spotlight with an even more advanced cosmological model that is providing new insights into how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed, and where magnetic fields originate. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a 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

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

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

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

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