IBM, NVIDIA and Mellanox Launch Design Center for HPC

By John Russell

July 2, 2015

Today’s launch by IBM, NVIDIA, and Mellanox of a new POWER Acceleration and Design Center in Montpellier, France, ratchets up their campaign to attract a wider developer community to the OpenPOWER platform and their efforts to build momentum for the march into the Intel-dominated HPC landscape.

The Montpellier-based center is the second of its kind, complementing the previously announced center in Germany at the Jülich Supercomputing Center in November. IBM has tens of client centers around the world and a rollout of similar design centers at other IBM sites seems likely. Technical experts from IBM, NVIDIA and Mellanox will help developers take advantage of OpenPOWER systems leveraging IBM’s open and licensable POWER architecture with the NVIDIA Tesla Accelerated Computing Platform and Mellanox InfiniBand networking solutions.

“[These centers] are crucial for engagement with the developer community and our clients. If you look at we are going with OpenPOWER at this point, it is trying to get the entire ecosystem of high performance computing, machine learning, data analytics, enterprise computing software developers, and ISVs onto the POWER platform,” Sumit Gupta, IBM vice president of HPC and OpenPOWER Operations told HPCwire in a pre-release briefing.

Not surprisingly, the OpenPOWER camp has broad goals. “If you look at the architecture NVIDIA and Mellanox are building with us, it is of course about scaling an application to hundreds and thousands of servers, but it’s also about taking massive advantage of a single server. Everything we do about scaling at the 100 petaflops level also helps the departmental cluster,” he said.

Quoted in the official announcement this morning, Stefan Kraemer, director of HPC business development, EMEA, at NVIDIA, said, “Increasing computational performance while minimizing energy consumption is a challenge the industry must overcome in the race to exascale computing. By providing systems combining IBM Power CPUs with GPU accelerators and the NVIDIA NVLink high-speed GPU interconnect technology, we can help the new Center address both objectives, enabling scientists to achieve new breakthroughs in their research.”

“The new POWER Acceleration and Design Center will help scientists and engineers address the grand challenges facing society in the fields of energy and environment, information and health care using the most advanced HPC architectures and technologies,” said Gilad Shainer, vice president of marketing at Mellanox Technologies. “Only Mellanox offloads data movement, management and even data manipulations (for example Message Passing – MPI collective communications) which are performed at the network level, enabling more valuable CPU cycles to be dedicated to the research applications.”

“Our launch of this new Center reinforces IBM’s commitment to open-source collaboration and is a next step in expanding the software and solution ecosystem around OpenPOWER,” said Dave Turek, IBM’s Vice President of HPC Market Engagement. “Teaming with NVIDIA and Mellanox, the Center will allow us to leverage the strengths of each of our companies to extend innovation and bring higher value to our customers around the world.” (see Is IBM Getting Openness Right?)

Come One, Come All?

According to Gupta the center is open for business now. Formally, the center is available to clients, all OpenPOWER members and free to academia. He was quick to add, “We are also proactively reaching out to the research community and application community. We have a very large application engagement team and welcome anyone who wants to work with us. Just get in touch with IBM we’re happy to engage.”

You can see his email inbox filling quickly.

The design center differs from the SuperVessel developer program (see IBM Introduces SuperVessel), which was launched in March in China. Supervessel is cloud-based (on OpenStack) while the Montpellier center is a traditional brick and mortar facility with an HPC cluster. Leading edge technology and expertise will be available from all three collaborators. Besides benefiting the developer and client community, Gupta notes it will enable NVIDIA, Mellanox and IBM to get faster feedback on how their technologies are working together.

As one would expect the competitive zeal runs hot in the battle between the Intel and OpenPOWER camps.

In characterizing POWER’s advantage, Gupta said, “The [POWER] CPU core is higher performance than an x86 core. We’ve been able to clock some of our cores up to 4GHz. Every core has eight threads while x86 only has two threads per core. On four processors sockets we can have 96 threads where on x86 you would have at best 24 threads. Our memory bandwidth is three times higher than x86 in most HPC applications. We can connect up to a terabyte of memory to any of our processor sockets which again enable us to operate on bigger data[sets].”

Intel would no doubt dispute the specific advantages and the battle of specs is likely to continue. What’s most important for OpenPOWER is winning support from a sufficient portion of the developer community and porting key HPC applications to the platform.

Gupta said, “One of the key metrics we look at is the number of developers that are adopting our platform. I think that’s critical for us to measure and there’s many ways to do it. You look at the number of developers but you also look at the number of applications that get onto the POWER platform and then of course you look eventually at the number of customers that are using your product.”

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