How the iForge Cluster is Manufacturing Results for Big Industry

By Nicole Hemsoth

February 26, 2014

When one thinks of major manufacturing companies, including Boeing, Proctor and Gamble, John Deere, Caterpillar, Dow, GE and others, from a systems and software perspective, there is little doubt that the competitive edge lies in high performance computing. But for many of these companies, it’s not simply a matter of plugging engineering codes into high core-count, accelerated supercomputers to magically realize better results.

Finite element analysis, computational fluid dynamics and homegrown codes at the largest manufacturing companies have their own unique system needs—but tend to run inside daily workflows where experimentation with new architectures and approaches are pushed down the chain due to competing demands from across the organization. According to Merle Giles, who leads the private sector program and economic development initiatives at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), most of the common engineering applications tend to hum nicely at around 1000 cores. They don’t’ tend to require acceleration but do need major memory to handle decomposition and other critical elements.

So while Giles and his team at NCSA have access to Blue Waters, core counts and scientific application performance are secondary. For the users he’s targeting–those with commercial and mission-critical home-cooked engineering codes–such a massive resource might not have the specific appeal of another far smaller (but far more targeted) option: A pared down, but finely tuned cluster specifically built to address the experimental needs of the “power users” at leading manufacturing companies. Giles’ team has such a hardware resource…and they’re also able to collect the varied expertise across both NCSA and the University of Illinois to bring world class support to bear as well.

To put this difference between system needs in context, consider that memory-tied engineering codes on Blue Waters with its 64 GB of RAM on a single node might do reasonably well, but take a much smaller cluster, in this case, the iForge system that Giles and his team operate in the Digital Manufacturing Lab at NCSA, and these codes can sing through decomposition on 256 GB instead.

The iForge cluster has been benchmarked for common CFD and FEA applications against the mighty Blue Waters for confirmation—which has further bolstered Giles and teams’ mission to keep pushing the edges of what’s useful for the manufacturing companies they’re serving with their private cluster that’s reserved for the experimental “power users” from the big companies listed above. “We want to be complementary to Blue Waters, not redundant,” Giles explained.

If you haven’t heard of iForge, it’s because although it’s been around for the last three years (and churning a profit for Giles to pump directly into the program with more–and more interesting—cores) it’s not part of the more publicized publicly funded efforts one might expect out of a university or national lab/supercomputer center setting. You also haven’t seen it from any LINPACK or other publicized benchmarking runs. Giles says this is because it’s optimized for these users to test and deploy their mission-critical code using some of the newest hardware. For instance, iForge was one of the early recipients of Sandy Bridge when it was available and already sports one of the just-released new Intel Xeon E7 4890 15-core-based nodes–for now.

The goal is simple: let the power users from the high end of digital manufacturing hop on board to take new architectures for a spin, optimize their codes and evaluate them against their existing infrastructure to better understand upgrade/rip and replace ROIs without burdening their own in-house clusters. These users can take valuable lessons about how their code scales and operates, make choices and in turn, Giles and team can turn over valuable feedback to system vendors. Also, they can use these cores for production runs, which the team charges for and that keep the center profitable and support the endless cycle of refreshes and system expansion. And speaking of the system…

iforge_250We were able to receive a number of deep details about the evolution of iForge from Evan Burness, the Program Manager for the private sector and economic development program at NCSA. Evan narrated the journey of cutting-edge hardware for us, including details about their Intel (and for a while, Opteron) environment, which was slung together by Dell with DDN storage and QDR Infinibad. As Burness described:

“We started iForge in Q3 2011 with “Intel’s Westmere” (116 EP nodes, 3 EX nodes) and AMD’s “Magny Cours” (2 nodes) architectures. That system had 1,584 cores total. In 2012 we upgraded to Intel’s “Sandy Bridge” (128 EP nodes) architecture when it was released to market (Q3 2012), and at the same time  increased our AMD node count from 2 to 18, and upgraded the processors to “Interlagos” (Just like the CPU’s on Blue Waters). Through the upgrade, we increased the node count from 121 to 146, and the core count to 2,624.” As a side point, he’s counting 4 Opteron processors in a node as accounting for 32 cores, rather than the 64 AMD might cite since the the “16 core” Opteron chips based on Interlagos and Abu Dhabi only have 8 floating point units, which is what’s really important for their work.

These constant upgrades were part of the master plan for the project—and will continue to be so since the goal is to continue offering new architectures for manufacturing users to test and explore.

Burness says they intended to upgrade again in mid-2013 (this time through Intel’s early access program), but vendor delays pushed that back to January of 2014. At that time, they upgraded to Intel’s “Ivy Bridge” (144 EP nodes) line, and AMD’s “Abu Dhabi’ Line. The Ivy Bridge nodes indeed feature the 10-core variants (Xeon E5 2680 v2), with 96 of the nodes featuring 64 GB of RAM (for CFD) workloads and 48 featuring 256 GB of RAM (for finite element analysis) workloads.

“We also added one (1) Ivy Bridge-EX system directly from Intel, who saw iForge as a particularly good platform at which to throw this new technology given how industry brings real-world development and production problems to this system.” Burness explained. These only were released from Intel in December and January. iForge is now one of the precious few that we can get any details on that features 4 x 15-core Xeon E7 4890 CPUs for a total of 60 cores and 120 threads. Burness and team have also augmented the server with an extra 1.5 terabytes of memory and multiple Infiniband connections.

In addition, he said, they upgraded their network insofar as PCIe gen 3.0 on the Ivy Bridge nodes increased the usable bandwidth of our QDR Infiniband fabric from 25.6 Gb/sec to 32.0 Gb/sec, “all while maintaining the lowest possible latency (even lower than FDR).” Burness says that coupled with all of this, they’re also adding 8 instances of Windows and GUI’d Red Hat Linux in order to provide the “desktop computing” experience for users that need to do so much inside their engineering workflows to support batch processing HPC. “Here, think of the need to run CAD and CAM workloads at one’s computer and then send the files to an HPC cluster. Doing so becomes inherently tougher as the simulated models become more complex and the data sizes grow larger. Having one integrated environment for the entire workflow is a big productivity booster for our industry partners.”

Burness says that, “Throughout all 3 years of operation, iForge has been supported by a GPFS filesystem from IBM running on a DDN SFA-10000 storage system. We pack our storage servers with 192 GB of RAM/server in order to maximize the amount of caching/buffering to RAM, which can really improve performance for I/O intensive applications.” He noted that “A big part of the design focus is on producing a system every year that is as fast or faster than all but a very elite and small number of companies would be able to build and support for themselves (exceptions would General Electric, BP etc.).”

Giles put all of this in real-world terms by referencing a use case with one of the large manufacturers when they first received the early Sandy Bridges. He said that at time, many of their partners weren’t sure how to step up to Sandy Bridge, despite its promise (including AVX capability) for engineering applications. By allowing them to experiment and hit full production runs on the system, Giles says they were able to completely change their workflows, validate the usefulness of the architecture, and push their normal 128-core workflow into 256 core territory. This isn’t something they would have been able to do on their home machines, which are “artificially dumbed down” to support a broader, more policy-based approach to handling daily work.

This work on iForge will be all be overseen by by UI Labs, which is a separate nonprofit organization based out of the university, where it can better leverage academic resources and those found at NCSA as well.  This ties in with the announcement this week of a $70 million “grant” (which Giles defines more of a matching funding arrangement similar to NDEMC) for digital manufacturing. This Department of Defense-led project will drive additional matched funds on the order of around $250 million from a number of manufacturing companies and other institutions.

As Burness concluded, “The government funded model of a system that runs in the same configuration for 3-5 years is not good enough for our power users from industry, as they have an insatiable appetite for speed and performance. In addition, we do a lot in design process to ensure a much higher level of uptime than many other HPC systems. A big part of that is our use of the GPFS filesystem. Though it must be licensed and is not faster than Lustre, it is WAYYY more reliable and easier to administer. It’s a huge part of the reason we’re able to achieve 99% uptime on iForge, which is a reliability level that industry demands.”

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!

Battle Brews over Trump Intentions for Funding Science

February 27, 2017

The battle over science funding – how much and for what kinds of science – Read more…

By John Russell

Google Gets First Dibs on New Skylake Chips

February 27, 2017

As part of an ongoing effort to differentiate its public cloud services, Google made good this week on its intention to bring custom Xeon Skylake chips from Intel Corp. Read more…

By George Leopold

Thomas Sterling on CREST and Academia’s Role in HPC Research

February 27, 2017

The US advances in high performance computing over many decades have been a product of the combined engagement of research centers in industry, government labs, and academia. Read more…

By Thomas Sterling, Indiana University

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Manufacturers Reaping the Benefits of Remote Visualization

Today’s manufacturers are operating in an ever-changing atmosphere, and finding new ways to boost productivity has never been more vital.

This is why manufacturers are ramping up their investments in high performance computing (HPC), a trend which has helped give rise to the “connected factory” and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) concepts that are proliferating throughout the industry today. Read more…

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Feb. 23, 2017)

February 23, 2017

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

HPE Server Shows Low Latency on STAC-N1 Test

February 22, 2017

The performance of trade and match servers can be a critical differentiator for financial trading houses. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Financial Update (Feb. 2017)

February 22, 2017

In this recurring feature, we’ll provide you with financial highlights from companies in the HPC industry. Check back in regularly for an updated list with the most pertinent fiscal information. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

Rethinking HPC Platforms for ‘Second Gen’ Applications

February 22, 2017

Just what constitutes HPC and how best to support it is a keen topic currently. Read more…

By John Russell

Thomas Sterling on CREST and Academia’s Role in HPC Research

February 27, 2017

The US advances in high performance computing over many decades have been a product of the combined engagement of research centers in industry, government labs, and academia. Read more…

By Thomas Sterling, Indiana University

Advancing Modular Supercomputing with DEEP and DEEP-ER Architectures

February 24, 2017

Knowing that the jump to exascale will require novel architectural approaches capable of delivering dramatic efficiency and performance gains, researchers around the world are hard at work on next-generation HPC systems. Read more…

By Sean Thielen

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDC: Will the Real Exascale Race Please Stand Up?

February 21, 2017

So the exascale race is on. And lots of organizations are in the pack. Government announcements from the US, China, India, Japan, and the EU indicate that they are working hard to make it happen – some sooner, some later. Read more…

By Bob Sorensen, IDC

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Drug Developers Use Google Cloud HPC in the Fight Against ALS

February 16, 2017

Within the haystack of a lethal disease such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis / Lou Gehrig’s Disease) there exists, somewhere, the needle that will pierce this therapy-resistant affliction. Read more…

By Doug Black

Azure Edges AWS in Linpack Benchmark Study

February 15, 2017

The “when will clouds be ready for HPC” question has ebbed and flowed for years. Read more…

By John Russell

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

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

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 Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

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

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

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

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. 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

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

Dell Knights Landing Machine Sets New STAC Records

November 2, 2016

The Securities Technology Analysis Center, commonly known as STAC, has released a new report characterizing the performance of the Knight Landing-based Dell PowerEdge C6320p server on the STAC-A2 benchmarking suite, widely used by the financial services industry to test and evaluate computing platforms. The Dell machine has set new records for both the baseline Greeks benchmark and the large Greeks benchmark. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel and Trump Announce $7B for Fab 42 Targeting 7nm

February 8, 2017

In what may be an attempt by President Trump to reset his turbulent relationship with the high tech industry, he and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich today announced plans to invest more than $7 billion to complete Fab 42. Read more…

By John Russell

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