HPC Prospects in Qatar

By Gary Johnson

November 11, 2013

All countries have some computing capability, but relatively fewer are serious players in HPC.  So far in the Middle East, the only country to place machines on the Top500 list is Saudi Arabia.  Qatar, which is right next door, is a very wealthy and focused country that could easily become a significant HPC power.  Why would Qatar want to play in HPC and how significant a player might it become? 

As evidenced by the 1980 to 2013 comparison photos of Doha, Qatar’s capital city, oil and gas revenues have enabled Qatar to transform itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling, into the country with the world’s highest per capita income.

Estimates project that Qatar’s 2012 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stand at $191 billion and its per capita GDP at $103,900.  About 36% of its households are in the highest 10% share of its income distribution. Qatar’s 2012 population was about 1.8 million and its labor force about 1.4 million.  Of the total population, only about 300,000 are Qatari citizens.  To enable its rapid economic development, Qatar has supplemented its domestic work force with a large compliment of expatriate workers from around the globe – and at all levels, from construction laborers to researchers, academics and administrators.

Talent Acquisition

Thomas Zacharia
Thomas Zacharia

Among the many expats now working in Qatar, two are particularly relevant to HPC – Thomas Zacharia and Mohammad (Moe) Khaleel.  About a year ago, after a 25 year career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Thomas Zacharia left the Lab to become the Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Executive Vice President of Research and Development.  Formerly ORNL’s Deputy Director for Science and Technology, Dr. Zacharia was best known for bringing Leadership Computing to the Lab, establishing the National Center for Computational Sciences and placing ORNL’s Jaguar supercomputer at the top of the Top500 list.

About six months ago, after a 20+ year career at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Moe Khaleel left his Lab to become QF R&D’s Executive Director for the Qatar Energy and Environment Research Institute (QEERI) and acting Executive Director for Qatar’s National Center for Computing Research Infrastructure (NCRI).

While at PNNL, Dr. Khaleel led the Lab’s Computational Sciences and Mathematics Division and co-directed the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing at the University of Washington.  Under his leadership, PNNL gained a strong national reputation in HPC, computational sciences and exascale computing research.

Mohammad (Moe) Khaleel
Mohammad (Moe) Khaleel

Given the extensive professional experience of Drs. Zacharia and Khaleel in pushing the HPC envelope and in computational science applications R&D, it seems reasonable to expect that the Qatar Foundation’s Research and Development program intends to focus some of its resources on these areas.  This expectation is reinforced by the recent announcement of a search for a permanent Executive Director for NCRI.

Qatar R&D Priorities

As stated in the Qatar National Vision 2030 document:

Qatar is at a crossroads. The country’s abundant wealth creates both previously undreamt of opportunities and formidable challenges. It is now imperative for Qatar to choose the best development path that is compatible with the views of its leadership and the aspirations of its people.

The vision statement for the Qatar National Research Strategy is:

Qatar will be a leading center for research and development excellence and innovation.

In implementing its national research strategy, Qatar has chosen a number of cross-cutting research priorities.  Among these, at least four are noteworthy from an HPC perspective:

  • Energy Security;
  • Water Security;
  • Cyber Security; and
  • Biomedical Research.

While Qatar has abundant oil and gas supplies, its focus is on transitioning its own energy economy to renewable sources, principally solar.  Qatar depends on desalinating seawater to provide fresh water to meet virtually all of its domestic needs.  Thus, new water purification technologies that provide higher throughput at lower energy costs are critically important.  Qatar is one of the most connected countries in the world. Culturally, economically, politically, socially, scientifically and financially the nation has risen to global prominence because of an infrastructure and communications network that is highly automated.  With this reliance on computing and networking technologies, Qatar has become one of the world’s most visible targets for cyber security attacks.  So, cyber security is also a high priority.  Biomedical research in Qatar is concentrated on genomic medicine, biomedical engineering, stem cell and gene-based therapies with primary focus in diabetes, cancer, and neurological diseases.  Additionally, the Qatar foundation’s healthcare initiative involves the Sidra Medical and Research Center – an ultramodern, all-digital academic medical center which intends to set new standards in patient care.

Since much of Qatar’s infrastructure is quite new and since Doha is growing rapidly, one can think of it as a venue for the development of a smart city.  That makes Doha an interesting place for Urban Studies – and provides an additional data-intensive computing research area to the mix.  Dr. Zacharia elaborated on this theme during a panel discussion at the International Supercomputing Conference’s Think Tank on Big Data this past Summer.

Based on our understanding of efforts elsewhere to deal with similar challenges, it seems safe to say that any serious attack on these problems will require very significant computing capabilities.

HPC Budget Estimate

So, Qatar has the national financial resources, core leadership and R&D priorities to justify becoming a significant player in global HPC.  How significant could Qatar become – and what would it cost?

If we assume that the Qatar Foundation’s R&D enterprise is about the same size as the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science, that would size it at about $5 billion per annum.  The Office of Science spends roughly $210 million per year, or 4% of its budget, to support its three large computing activities.  This collection consists of a production facility, NERSC, at about $65 million/year and two “leadership” facilities, the Argonne facility (ALCF) at about $60 million/year and the Oak Ridge facility (OLCF) at about $85 million/year.  The OLCF currently houses Titan, the number 2 machine on the Top500 list.

The numbers above represent recurring costs.  If we look at acquisition costs, then consider Tianhe-2 which is currently at the top of the Top500 list – and is roughly twice as fast as Titan.  Reportedly, the acquisition of Tihane-2 cost $390 million.

Another way to bound the budget for a high-end machine would be to look at its development cost.  At a US House of Representatives hearing earlier this year, Dr. Rick Stevens from DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory reported that the investment required for DOE to field an exascale system by 2020 would be about $400 million/year (you’ll find the relevant discussion about 62 minutes into this YouTube video of the hearing).

So, given all of this, we can make a few rough estimates.  If QF R&D were to field a Titan sized machine, perhaps it would cost about $80 million/year, or about 1.6% of an assumed $5 billion budget.  Suppose twice as fast (i.e. Tihane-2 sized) cost twice as much.  That would yield 3.2% or $160 million/year.

Developing an exascale system is a totally different matter.  But suppose there is some room for savings in the $400 million/year estimate.  Maybe $300 million/year would suffice.  These scenarios would cost 8% or 6% of an assumed $5 billion budget.  Also, since developing a next-generation machine would not satisfy current or immediate future requirements, one would need to include an additional 1.6% to 3.2% to cover those needs.

In summary, if Qatar were to require a nice production supercomputing facility, one could be operated for about $60 million/year.  Going beyond that could range as high as $400 – $500 million/year.

Commitment

We’ve been discussing some pretty large budget numbers for any country – and Qatar is a small (but prosperous) one.  Given the computing needs of its research priorities, might Qatar commit to being a major HPC player?

In a recent article, Dr. Zacharia summarized his view of Qatar’s R&D goals as being “ambitious” but “achievable” and went on to say:

What’s taking place in Qatar is unprecedented in recent times. In many ways it harkens back to the time when the big national laboratories were established in the United States during the establishment of NASA. We have the opportunity and responsibility to build this knowledge-based economy.

The article also presents some summary expectations for the next five years, over which QF R&D intends to support:

  • A new 200,000 square meter R&D complex;
  • 2,000 new researchers at QF R&D;
  • 8,000 private sector researchers; and
  • 1,000 Ph.D. graduates.

Globally, R&D and supercomputing expenditures as a percent of GDP vary widely.  Based on statistics drawn from the World Bank, the CIA World Factbook and an IDC study done for the European Commission, we can make a few relevant comparisons:

Country/Region

R&D Expenditure

[% of GDP]

Supercomputing Expenditure

[% of GDP]

United States

2.9%

0.0089%

European Union

1.8%

0.0049%

Japan

3.4%

0.0055%

China

1.7%

0.0014%

Korea

3.7%

0.0083%

Singapore

2.4%

0.0100%

Qatar

2.8%

?

 

The 2.8% of GDP number cited for Qatar comes from a Knoxville News Sentinel article written in August of 2012.  If correct, it would place Qatar in the same R&D expenditure range as the US or Singapore, well above the EU or China, but lower than Japan or Korea.  If Qatar were to spend 0.01% of GDP on supercomputing (i.e. in the range of the US or Singapore), this would provide roughly $20 million/year.  That would be enough to be a very credible HPC player.  To move into the top ranks, Qatar would probably need to spend about 0.030% to 0.045% of GDP.

Could Qatar make a big commitment to HPC?  So far, they’ve turned a poor economy based on pearling and fishing into one yielding the world’s highest per capita income.  The Qatari satellite TV station Al-Jazeera has become one of the most important broadcasters, not only in the Arab world, but globally.  Qatar is quite active on the regional and world stage, having mediated in disputes in the Middle East and Africa.  Qatar also won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup – the world’s largest sporting event.  Qatar is rapidly developing Doha and expanding its infrastructure.  In fact, Qatar is expected to spend about $100 billion on infrastructure development in Doha over the next 10 years.  Large numbers of buildings are under construction, there is a huge expansion to its transportation network, including the addition of new highways, the construction of a new airport, and the construction of a metro system.  For a visual impression of what the Qataris are doing, take a look at these videos: Doha Bay Crossing and Lusail Expressway.

Most importantly, rather than focusing on tourism, as some other Middle Eastern countries have, Qatar has chosen to focus its resources on developing a knowledge economy.  HPC will need to be an integral part of any such economy.

Qatar has become known for “punching above its weight”.  Time will tell if it chooses to punch above its weight in HPC.

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!

China Plans 2019 Exascale Machine To Grow Sea Power

August 23, 2017

The glory of having the world's fastest supercomputer, as measured by the Linpack benchmark, has been China's for four years running, first with the 33-petaflops Tianhe-2 and currently with the 93-petaflops TaihuLight. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Study Identifies Best Practices for Public-Private HPC Engagement

August 22, 2017

What's the best way for HPC centers in the public sphere to engage with private industry partners to boost the competitiveness of the companies and the larger communities? That question is at the heart of a new study pub Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Launches Site to Share its NYC-based Algorithm Research

August 22, 2017

Much of Google’s algorithm development occurs in groups scattered throughout New York City. Yesterday, Google launched a single website - NYC Algorithms and Optimization Team page - to provide a deeper view into all of Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Leveraging Deep Learning for Fraud Detection

Advancements in computing technologies and the expanding use of e-commerce platforms have dramatically increased the risk of fraud for financial services companies and their customers. Read more…

Dell Strikes Reseller Deal with Atos; Supplants SGI

August 22, 2017

Dell EMC and Atos announced a reseller deal today in which Dell will offer Atos’ high-end 8- and 16-socket Bullion servers. Some move from Dell had been expected following Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s purchase of SGI Read more…

By John Russell

China Plans 2019 Exascale Machine To Grow Sea Power

August 23, 2017

The glory of having the world's fastest supercomputer, as measured by the Linpack benchmark, has been China's for four years running, first with the 33-petaflop Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Study Identifies Best Practices for Public-Private HPC Engagement

August 22, 2017

What's the best way for HPC centers in the public sphere to engage with private industry partners to boost the competitiveness of the companies and the larger c Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tech Giants Outline Battle Plans for Future HPC Market

August 21, 2017

Four companies engaged in a cage fight for leadership in the emerging HPC market of the 2020s are, despite deep differences in some areas, in violent agreement Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft Bolsters Azure With Cloud HPC Deal

August 15, 2017

Microsoft has acquired cloud computing software vendor Cycle Computing in a move designed to bring orchestration tools along with high-end computing access capabilities to the cloud. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Ships Supercomputer to Space Station, Final Destination Mars

August 14, 2017

With a manned mission to Mars on the horizon, the demand for space-based supercomputing is at hand. Today HPE and NASA sent the first off-the-shelf HPC system i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD EPYC Video Takes Aim at Intel’s Broadwell

August 14, 2017

Let the benchmarking begin. Last week, AMD posted a YouTube video in which one of its EPYC-based systems outperformed a ‘comparable’ Intel Broadwell-based s Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Thrives in Cancer Moonshot

August 8, 2017

The U.S. War on Cancer, certainly a worthy cause, is a collection of programs stretching back more than 40 years and abiding under many banners. The latest is t Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Raises the Bar for Distributed Deep Learning

August 8, 2017

IBM is announcing today an enhancement to its PowerAI software platform aimed at facilitating the practical scaling of AI models on today’s fastest GPUs. Scal Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a 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

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

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

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

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

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

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

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

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

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum. Read more…

By John Russell

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

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