Cray Goes Back to the Future for Weather Forecasting

By Nicole Hemsoth

February 16, 2014

Weather forecasting has come a long way since June of 1977, when the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) first contracted Cray to deliver one of its early Cray-1A systems across the pond. This was the first time a Cray found its way to the old country—an installation that set the stage for a number of new deployments of both vector and shared memory systems to power European weather prediction over the next several decades.

The first Cray system at ECMWF enabled the weather center to offer a 10-day forecast powered by a weather model that achieved sustained performance of 50 megaflops (against the system’s theoretical peak of 160 megaflops). These systems were followed by the Cray X-MP/22, then an X-MP/48, followed by the Y-MP 8/8-64, C90 (with a gigaflop of theoretical peak), and then into shared memory territory with the T3D. This was the last system ECMWF bought for a stretch in favor of Fujitsu and then Power-based systems from IBM. Now, 36 years after choosing their first Cray system, EMCWF is taking the supercomputing back.

The Big Blue machines that are being swapped out for the XC30 early this year were ranked at 51 and 52 on the most recent Top500. If you’re wondering why there are two systems of equal proportions that are essentially tied, it’s because specific operational requirements demand a two-machine approach for centers who provide model outputs that power the weather forecasting efforts of an entire continent—as is the case with ECMWF.

Isabella Weger, who heads the Computer Division at the weather center (and has been instrumental in the two-cluster approach decision that set the trend for other weather modeling centers worldwide) explained that having separate clusters in the datacenter offers more resilience for operational forecasts.” In essence, one system runs the center’s operational forecasts, which are the critical products they deliver to the 20 member states and 14 co-operative states in Europe that our models for regional and local weather forecasting.” The other cluster runs the center’s research workloads, which includes activities centered on improving their numerical weather prediction model and offering a more comprehensive view into atmospheric behavior.

While both clusters are busy chewing on their own workloads, all operational data is available to both machines. The dual storage clusters, which will now be Cray Sonexion-based systems, are cross-mounted across the compute clusters so EMCWF has access to the data readily available in the event that they need to restart the forecast during a system upgrades or problems.

Although Weger and team set the dual-cluster trend at ECMWF, this is a rather unique approach to continuity in Cray CEO, Pete Ungaro’s experience. As he told us, “we haven’t seen this kind of configuration outside of operational weather forecasting centers, really. Most people that are using our machines for research tend to build the single biggest engine they can. However, the operational requirements we see even in demanding commercial markets are not as evenly focused from an operational standpoint as what EMCWF and other major weather centers need.”

This dual-approach to cluster and storage scenarios is the direct result of Isabella and team’s need to ensure constant delivery of the critical forecasting models centers in Europe rely on. And the data’s importance doesn’t end there—EMCWF has an extensive tape library of model outputs from decades gone by which totals over 50 petabytes of historical climate data. Further, she says their system generates around 50 terabytes per day. These data are used by climate and atmospheric scientists around the world who require detailed data from outdated model output for advanced climate change and other longer-range atmospheric studies.

For now, however, it’s about adding more fine-tuned resolution to the models to better help governments prepare for weather events. “If you imagine a grid around the globe, our current model resolution is 16 km between grid points and our plan is in 2015 timeframe to go to a finer resolution of 10 km, hence the driver for compute resources.”

All of this takes some serious compute horsepower, which beginning early this year, will mean the use of the Aries interconnected Cray XC30 “Cascade” supercomputer with a multi-petabyte Sonexion storage system—again, split into two separate clusters. Ungaro described the environment as accelerator-free (although the system is capable and Weger said they are considering the future of accelerators for their application) noting that “each of these [Ivy Bridge] systems are in two different halls, each about 19 cabinets, about 3,600 nodes, all interconnected with our Aries interconnect, so about 80,000 cores in each of the machines.”

To put all of this compute into some context, keep in mind that over 60 million observations are factored into the overall forecasting model at EMCWF. It starts with observations, which come from a range of sources, many from satellites, others including ground based observational tools, buoys, and airplanes. These observations provide the baseline for the forecast.

“We take these many observations and process them to drive a base point for the atmosphere,” Weger explains. “These are all observations from different points in time and space, and we must snap these into a grid of sorts that spans the globe in the proper space and time.” This is EMCWF’s process of “data assimilation” which in itself is both data and computationally-intensive—and it all happens before the forecast model has begun.

Complex forecasting is not a “one-shot” system. Since no forecast is perfect, a sense of probability for weather events must also be calculated. “We run an ensemble of 51 forecasts per day, each with some changes in the initial conditions to get a sense of probability. If you relate this to a hurricane, for instance, the model gives you the projected track of the storm with different conditions.”

“It’s about performance, of course, but also very important are resilience and reliability and also, portability,” added Weger. She notes that they strive to keep their forecasting system portable across architectures so that with each procurement cycle they have many vendor choices. “The application is mainly Fortran and whenever we optimize or develop code we try to make sure it doesn’t inhibit us from making architecture choices–we don’t want to be locked into a specific vendor or architecture.”

While Weger didn’t comment on their experiences using the IBM Power architecture, she and Ungaro both agreed that the benchmarking and procurement process was lengthy and detailed. EMCWF has a scientific and operational 10 year strategy that defines the upgrades they do across their model (called the Intergrated Forecasting System, which is the code comprises the model and data assimilation). Much of their upgrades are driven by the need for a lot of computing resources to power increases in model resolution, thus allowing the center to use more observational data and offer a better representation of the physics in the atmosphere in the model itself.

Adding more computational power to the forecasts makes quite a difference over time. While it might not sound like much in passing, the ability to add one more day of quality forecasting per decade, could make an incredible difference during potentially severe weather events. “A seven-day forecast today is as accurate as a 5 day forecast was 20 years,” explained Weger.

Ungaro, who was in the room during our chat with Weger, was beaming by the end of the conversation when the topic went back to the “full circle” nature of this new system at ECMWF. “We are very proud to have this kind of history and to help provide the systems that can save lives and make such a difference in the world,” he said.

While we might be able to do some speculative math on the potential placement of the new Cray system on the next Top 500 list—and its ability to provide more power for the models than the IBM Power-based system, time will tell. We’ll check in on this story again once the system appears on the June list.

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!

Quantum Rolls – DOE Dishes $218M; NSF Awards $31M; US Releases ‘Strategic Overview’

September 24, 2018

It was quite a day for U.S. quantum computing. In conjunction with the White House Summit on Advancing American Leadership in Quantum Information Science (QIS) held today, the Department of Energy announced $218 million Read more…

By John Russell

Russian and American Scientists Achieve 50% Increase in Data Transmission Speed

September 20, 2018

As high-performance computing becomes increasingly data-intensive and the demand for shorter turnaround times grows, data transfer speed becomes an ever more important bottleneck. Now, in an article published in IEEE Tra Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM to Brand Rescale’s HPC-in-Cloud Platform

September 20, 2018

HPC (or big compute)-in-the-cloud platform provider Rescale has formalized the work it’s been doing in partnership with public cloud vendors by announcing its Powered by Rescale program – with IBM as its first named Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Introducing the First Integrated System Management Software for HPC Clusters from HPE

How do you manage your complex, growing cluster environments? Answer that big challenge with the new HPC cluster management solution: HPE Performance Cluster Manager. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Clouds Over the Ocean – a Healthcare Perspective

Advances in precision medicine, genomics, and imaging; the widespread adoption of electronic health records; and the proliferation of medical Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile devices are resulting in an explosion of structured and unstructured healthcare-related data. Read more…

Democratization of HPC Part 1: Simulation Sheds Light on Building Dispute

September 20, 2018

This is the first of three articles demonstrating the growing acceptance of High Performance Computing especially in new user communities and application areas. Major reasons for this trend are the ongoing improvements i Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch

Quantum Rolls – DOE Dishes $218M; NSF Awards $31M; US Releases ‘Strategic Overview’

September 24, 2018

It was quite a day for U.S. quantum computing. In conjunction with the White House Summit on Advancing American Leadership in Quantum Information Science (QIS) Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Accelerates AI Inference in the Datacenter with T4 GPU

September 14, 2018

Nvidia is upping its game for AI inference in the datacenter with a new platform consisting of an inference accelerator chip--the new Turing-based Tesla T4 GPU- Read more…

By George Leopold

DeepSense Combines HPC and AI to Bolster Canada’s Ocean Economy

September 13, 2018

We often hear scientists say that we know less than 10 percent of the life of the oceans. This week, IBM and a group of Canadian industry and government partner Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Rigetti (and Others) Pursuit of Quantum Advantage

September 11, 2018

Remember ‘quantum supremacy’, the much-touted but little-loved idea that the age of quantum computing would be signaled when quantum computers could tackle Read more…

By John Russell

How FPGAs Accelerate Financial Services Workloads

September 11, 2018

While FSI companies are unlikely, for competitive reasons, to disclose their FPGA strategies, James Reinders offers insights into the case for FPGAs as accelerators for FSI by discussing performance, power, size, latency, jitter and inline processing. Read more…

By James Reinders

Update from Gregory Kurtzer on Singularity’s Push into FS and the Enterprise

September 11, 2018

Container technology is hardly new but it has undergone rapid evolution in the HPC space in recent years to accommodate traditional science workloads and HPC systems requirements. While Docker containers continue to dominate in the enterprise, other variants are becoming important and one alternative with distinctly HPC roots – Singularity – is making an enterprise push targeting advanced scale workload inclusive of HPC. Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Wins Next NSF-funded Major Supercomputer

July 30, 2018

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has won the next NSF-funded big supercomputer beating out rivals including the National Center for Supercomputing Ap Read more…

By John Russell

IBM at Hot Chips: What’s Next for Power

August 23, 2018

With processor, memory and networking technologies all racing to fill in for an ailing Moore’s law, the era of the heterogeneous datacenter is well underway, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Requiem for a Phi: Knights Landing Discontinued

July 25, 2018

On Monday, Intel made public its end of life strategy for the Knights Landing "KNL" Phi product set. The announcement makes official what has already been wide Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CERN Project Sees Orders-of-Magnitude Speedup with AI Approach

August 14, 2018

An award-winning effort at CERN has demonstrated potential to significantly change how the physics based modeling and simulation communities view machine learni Read more…

By Rob Farber

ORNL Summit Supercomputer Is Officially Here

June 8, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) together with IBM and Nvidia celebrated the official unveiling of the Department of Energy (DOE) Summit supercomputer toda Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

By John Russell

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

AMD’s EPYC Road to Redemption in Six Slides

June 21, 2018

A year ago AMD returned to the server market with its EPYC processor line. The earth didn’t tremble but folks took notice. People remember the Opteron fondly Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17

Altair

AMD @ SC17

AMD

ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack

CEJN @ SC17

CEJN

DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17

Huawei

IBM @ SC17

IBM

IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17

Intel

Lenovo @ SC17

Lenovo

Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17

Microsoft

Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17

Supericro

Tyan @ SC17

Tyan

Univa @ SC17

Univa

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave Breaks New Ground in Quantum Simulation

July 16, 2018

Last Friday D-Wave scientists and colleagues published work in Science which they say represents the first fulfillment of Richard Feynman’s 1982 notion that Read more…

By John Russell

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

TACC’s ‘Frontera’ Supercomputer Expands Horizon for Extreme-Scale Science

August 29, 2018

The National Science Foundation and the Texas Advanced Computing Center announced today that a new system, called Frontera, will overtake Stampede 2 as the fast Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Announces Cooper Lake, Advances AI Strategy

August 9, 2018

Intel's chief datacenter exec Navin Shenoy kicked off the company's Data-Centric Innovation Summit Wednesday, the day-long program devoted to Intel's datacenter Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GPUs Power Five of World’s Top Seven Supercomputers

June 25, 2018

The top 10 echelon of the newly minted Top500 list boasts three powerful new systems with one common engine: the Nvidia Volta V100 general-purpose graphics proc Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Machine Learning Hype Cycle and HPC

June 14, 2018

Like many other HPC professionals I’m following the hype cycle around machine learning/deep learning with interest. I subscribe to the view that we’re probably approaching the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ but not quite yet starting the descent into the ‘trough of disillusionment. This still raises the probability that... Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This