Skills Gap Changing the Face of UK Supercomputing

By Russell Slack

June 20, 2013

Once upon a time a tech geek was a near-commodity. When we built a High Performance Computer (HPC) or ‘server cluster,’ we knew that our customers would have someone in-house, possibly a user, who would manage and maintain the system. HPC integrations were most common in the academic sector, so there were any number of budding computer engineers keen to fiddle, refine, and improve the system in their spare time. It was a personal challenge for many users.

Move to 2013 and it is boom-time for the design and integration of server clusters. According to a June 2013 IDC report, worldwide factory revenue for the HPC technical server market increased 5.3 percent in the first quarter of 2013 to reach 2.5 billion USD, up from 2.4 billion USD in the same period of 2012.

Server clusters are no longer the reserve of a few select universities with engineering and design aspirations. The UK Government recently invested £156m into UK research and development, a significant proportion of which has ended up in new academic server clusters. These clusters are used by a large range of disciplines from engineering, science, and mathematics to cosmology, archaeology, and economics. Durham, Warwick, Southampton, Aberdeen, Leicester, and Bristol universities have all built or upgraded systems in the last few months. 

Big businesses have gotten in on the act too and, space, cooling and energy permitting, the ever decreasing cost of hardware means that even SMBs can now afford to purchase their own server cluster. 

However, this boom presents a few challenges:

1. The new breed of customers, specifically the users, does not want to fiddle, refine and improve the system. They want a readymade utility compute service so they can focus on their primary business 

2. Full-time HPC managers are few and far between, as they are either very ‘green’ or come with 25 years of experience and are very expensive. The University of Central Lancashire [UCLan], for example, recently spent several months on a fruitless search for a full-time HPC manager after its incumbent left on short notice.

3. IT managers cannot stretch their skills to managing a server cluster. We tend to find that IT departments abound with wall-to-wall Microsoft experts who can maintain a normal IT infrastructure but can’t stretch to a Linux server cluster environment. They lack specific skills in configuring parallel file systems (such as IBM’s GPFS); they have no compiling skills to get maximum power from CPUs or GPUs; they cannot port codes to parallel programming languages such as MPI and they do not understand the weird and wonderful scientific applications that are commonly used. Fine-tuning a cluster is like your local mechanic working on an F1 racecar. It’s similar, but quite a few extra skills are needed.        

To help combat these challenges, Daresbury Laboratories is doing some great work to help develop HPC skills. Further, there is a GPFS user group in operation that we coordinate, which is successfully helping to promote learning amongst file system users. However, this development program could take several years to flood the industry with a new brood of tech-geeks.  

In the short term, lack of HPC skills is changing the face of supercomputing and leading to a boom in managed services, hosted clusters, and HPC-on-demand.

For example:

1. After an unsuccessful attempt to recruit a full-time HPC manager, UCLan eventually opted for remote managed services to operate its cluster. Graham Lee, Head of IT Infrastructure Management said at the time: “Our HPC system can now be remotely managed and is presently returning 98 per cent availability of service”.  

2. SMB engineering firm Engys recently purchased a hosted cluster, i.e. a cluster owned by the business, but held in a datacentre by the supplier and accessed remotely. Although primary driven by a lack of space and cooling in its own office, Francisco Campos, Director of Operations at Engys suggested: “A hosted cluster gives us freedom, we do not have to waste our own time and effort maintaining the cluster; we don’t need cluster skills”.

3. BHR Group, a fluid engineering consultancy, now uses an HPC-on-demand service which enables them to cope with peaks in demand for compute capacity. Dr David Kelsall, senior consultant at BHR Group suggests, “We use a HPC-on-demand service, it is a very easy, with an uncomplicated and simple structure that doesn’t require any previous HPC knowledge to operate”.

The HPC industry is like a winding road with new technologies, innovations, and suppliers bending and shaping its path. However, for the first time, as a result of a lack of skills, organisations have four roads to choose from: an in-house cluster if skills are available, a managed service, a hosted cluster, or an HPC-on-demand service. It is thus an exciting time to be in the industry as supercomputing power becomes more accessible.

About Russell Slack

Working for OCF plc since 2002 and with its predecessor firm since December 1995; Russell is Operations Director.

Responsible for a team of HPC and storage specialists along with the Operations and Project Management teams; Russell has worked his way up from Trainee Engineer, UNIX System Engineer, Senior Engineer and Engineering Manager with OCF plc.

Russell oversees every part of customers’ installations which includes: coordinating delivery of customers’ orders to OCF for pre-installation quality testing purposes; investigating the most effective way of implementing solutions; coordinating the delivery and managing the installation of solutions at customers’ sites and the creation and agreement of Statements of Work and bespoke SLA contracts to ensure that the scope of work is clearly understood by all parties and on-going support packages are tailored to the customers’ needs.

Russell joined OCF directly from Sheffield College where he gained a Diploma in Computer Studies.

He is a certified PRINCE2 Project Management practitioner, IBM certified solution architect for cloud computing infrastructure V1, ITIL v3 certified, holds Linux technical certification from the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), and IBM professional certification (IBM Certified Systems Expert – System X and System P and IBM Enterprise Technical Support AIX 5L V5.3) together with a whole host of qualifications on various other UNIX platforms.

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!

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

HPC Career Notes (Dec. 2016)

December 1, 2016

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high performance computing community. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

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

IBM and NSF Computing Pioneer Erich Bloch Dies at 91

November 30, 2016

Erich Bloch, a computational pioneer whose competitive zeal and commercial bent helped transform the National Science Foundation while he was its director, died last Friday at age 91. Bloch was a productive force to be reckoned. During his long stint at IBM prior to joining NSF Bloch spearheaded development of the “Stretch” supercomputer and IBM’s phenomenally successful System/360. Read more…

By John Russell

Pioneering Programmers Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

November 30, 2016

In an awards ceremony on November 22, President Barack Obama recognized 21 recipients with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

SC Says Farewell to Salt Lake City, See You in Denver

November 18, 2016

After an intense four-day flurry of activity (and a cold snap that brought some actual snow flurries), the SC16 show floor closed yesterday (Thursday) and the always-extensive technical program wound down today. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave SC16 Update: What’s Bo Ewald Saying These Days

November 18, 2016

Tucked in a back section of the SC16 exhibit hall, quantum computing pioneer D-Wave has been talking up its new 2000-qubit processor announced in September. Forget for a moment the criticism sometimes aimed at D-Wave. This small Canadian company has sold several machines including, for example, ones to Lockheed and NASA, and has worked with Google on mapping machine learning problems to quantum computing. In July Los Alamos National Laboratory took possession of a 1000-quibit D-Wave 2X system that LANL ordered a year ago around the time of SC15. Read more…

By John Russell

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