Back to the Future of Serial Speed?

By Bill Sembrat

October 30, 2013

For the last few decades we have had great increases in performance. Since going to “off-the-shelf components” and riding on the tails of increasing processor improvements along with ever greater number of chips and cores some have come to realize that this can’t go on forever.

We have filled up a number of ever-bigger rooms with racks and racks until we have come face to face with having to own your own power company just for the power needed to run these complexes. On another front I would have expected more concerns about the high cost of these high-end systems.

It also seems that others are raising doubts because recently there has been a lot questions, concerns, discussions, comments, articles about the problems, and enough concerns about the way forward to even provide extra funding, but few seem to looking at root issues and saying that moving forward things need to change.

We have been lucky to ride the train so far, much longer and further than those of us would have ever imaged. But, now it has become ever harder and more costly to keep the train going. So lets take a deeper look at the road traveled. About 20 years ago the HPC train switched paths from custom processors and custom systems to off-the-shelf processors and systems. It has been a good and fruitful ride.

I think it would be very wise to notice that recently most of the speed improvement has come from the parallel side. I (we) was always highly focused on the serial side. At this point maybe I should say something about myself. I was fortunate to have worked with Seymour Cray for many years. So, the we, I am referring to, is my involvement and experience with Seymour and Seymour’s machines. Seymour was never in any race and not really concerned about what someone else may be doing or not doing, but always interested in exploring and pushing serial speed on real workloads. We were mainly focused on serial speed because it kept things simple and made systems easier to use, easier to program, with less overhead and higher system efficiencies.

Few may have ever talked to Seymour about serial speed vs. parallel speed, but I can tell you that Seymour was always quite aware and disciplined himself to stay focused on serial speed improvements. He felt he could contribute more, add more value, was personally more challenging, and he very much like to work on, enjoyed working on serial improvements.

Although, he would never admit it, he also knew that he was the “king” of serial speed. Just a side comment, Seymour was also interested in exploring the far end of parallel processors and we had a running prototype parallel machine that had a design goal of 30,000,000 processors, but that is quite another story. Getting back to this topic we were really always highly focused on serial speed with the “Cray’s.” Over the last 20 odd years the current off-the-shelf path has relied on serial speed improvements but ever more increasingly on greater and greater parallel speed improvements. Parallel speed improvements has, naturally, associated with it higher overhead and power costs along with lower system efficiencies and now ever higher costs to get into the top of the list.

So to get large cost effective improvements I think that we now need to re-focus back to serial speed improvements. I believe that by addressing serial speed improvements that speed improvements of 50X+ can be achieved because we were addressing root level changes that could lead to these kinds of improvements. This quickly leads one to a startling conclusion that memory can’t keep up, does not work and becomes the big elephant in the room. So you really need to look at how memory is used and really the only way to see it is to wipe the slate clean and get rid of memory. In order to think about it you need first get rid of it and start again fresh. Very few may be up to the task of starting fresh with a blank sheet. This is a rather hard task and not as simple as one may think.

While Seymour always preferred blank paper pads with faint light blue lines and number 2 pencils, at a time, it seemed, everyone started using computers and in some cases even “Cray” Super Computers to design the “next” machine. Einstein never needed or used a computer for his theories and I would guess that Peter Higgs didn’t use one either. Giant leaps and great things seem to come from very simple root ideas. Also can-do-positive attitudes play a most, maybe the most important part, even over seemingly impossible tasks.

The memory model currently used is largely based on a 70-year-old model. Oh, if you can wake up the guys that came up with the model, that were in the farm house/barn in Princeton at the time, they would be quite amazed at the great strides and progress but in very short order they would be able to program today’s machines – so in some ways things really haven’t changed much. Other areas will need to be addressed and changed, but memory is the first and most looming problem. Because these changes are deeper root issues they should be hidden from users and even and from most of the vast layers of existing software. Funny you may think that this is new but most was tried and used years ago, but never commercialized and sometimes discarded because of lack of the-then-current available technology.

Well, yes I do believe that by addressing some deep root issues that over time large serial speed improvements can be achieved, but to use them you will quickly come to the several conclusions including that you must deal with new ways to see and use memory and all that this implies. To achieve very large improvements, I think, the focus needs to be on very several very fundamental and root changes and then apply all the parallel knowledge and improvements made over the last 20 years. Now here, I believe, may be a bigger problem. In the US we have been blessed with chip and system vendors that have been able to supply ever-increasing speeds and lots of chips and cores so we have been glued to that path but others may be unencumbered, highly motivated and more able to do something new and different.

Although they may operate under different set of rules and have additional other problems they do not have as much invested in existing ideas, enterprises, hard plant and equipment; and may be less locked in and may be more willing to change pathways. So I am concerned with our current shortsighted attitude and lack of “Americanism” in keeping the leadership local.

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!

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

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

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

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

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