Momentum Builds for Intel’s HPC Scalable System Framework

By Tiffany Trader

July 13, 2015

At a press conference on Friday, Intel delivered a progress report on the state of its unfolding HPC portfolio. With key products like Omni-Path and Knights Landing set to launch later this year, Intel is focusing on the momentum that is building for its HPC Scalable System Framework. The company also announced that it is entering into a deeper alliance with system partner HP to support HPC at a full range of scales.

Intel sees the framework as a configurable design path that is customizable for a wide range of workloads. The framework combines compute (Xeon and Phi processors), fabric, silicon photonics, innovative memory technologies, and the Intel Lustre parallel file system, plus the ability to efficiently integrate these elements into a broad spectrum of system solutions, optimized for both compute- and data-intensive workloads.

Intel HPC Scalable System Framework ISC 2015 slide

“It’s an organizing principle for us and for our OEM partners,” said Charlie Wuischpard, vice president of Intel’s data center group and general manager. “Rather than just building a big one-off system it’s really to take those learnings and that technology to make sure it’s usable across the entire industry and that it can be dialed-in to cover both compute and data-centric workloads.”

“From a half rack, full rack, row, up to the largest supercomputer in the world, this technology should be usable and productive,” he added. “And it’s all based on standards-based programmability on the x86 ISA, and can handle different business models from on-premise to cloud.”

A bolstered alliance between Intel and HP illustrates how the Scalable System Framework is being used by the industry. Under the renewed partnership, covered in greater detail here, HP is building a set of industry and workload optimized solutions on top of the Intel framework. The agreement is essentially a merging of Intel and HP innovation with a strong focus on code modernization and rapid deployment that will be facilitated via a new Center of Excellence in Houston, Texas. Intel has a similar partnership in place with Cray, which in April announced that it is basing its future Shasta architecture on the Intel framework.

Although these are the only renewed partnerships that have been revealed so far, the system framework is an essential part of Intel’s strategy and the company sees opportunities for all its partners to provide differentiation on top of this framework with regard to their respective markets and customers.

Diving into some of the building blocks for this framework, Intel is putting the spotlight on its Omni-Path fabric, which is gearing up to hit its official general availability launch date later this year. Wuischpard said Intel has already won quite a few opportunities that it will be installing in Q4 of 2015, and it has been sampling with all the major HPC and OEM vendors. There is also a pipeline of opportunities that have been bid and priced, the VP noted. He added that Intel has been pleased with the health of the silicon and the progress that has been made from an engineering perspective. Some of the testing and performance has been “super encouraging,” according to Wuischpard, which is to say that while GA is still to come the firm is “essentially open for business and taking pre-orders.”

The other bit of information that Intel has let out about Omni-Path is that it will have single port adapter cards, plus a pair of edge switches for inside of racks or to be used as spines and a pair of director switches for aggregating across racks. The edge switches will come with 24 or 48 ports, and the director switches will come with 192 or 768 ports.

What most want to know is how Omni-Path will compare to InfiniBand, and particularly EDR InfiniBand. Wuischpard highlighted the high message rate, low latency and the benefit of strong resiliency that doesn’t introduce more latency. Other features include traffic flow optimization and dynamic lane scaling, and Intel’s commitment to “top to bottom product line coverage.” The chipmaker said it will be coming to market with single-port Host Fabric Adapter (PCIe) cards, 24- and 48-port edge switches to handle the low-to-mid range, and for very large systems, 192-port and 768-port (QSFP-based leaf switch) director switches.

Intel Omni-Path 100 Series ISC 2015 slide cropped


“Whether you are a small half-rack or storage focused solution up through the very largest supercomputers, you now have a range of options and a range of price points to work with. In the aggregate, this will be the best TCO and the best ROI solution on the market in this time frame,” Wuischpard stated.

When it comes to the new Phi Knights Landing chips, Wuischpard said the company has been focusing on ecosystem readiness and sampling. As has been previously mentioned in other reports, the SKUs will be up to 72 cores with 2 vector processing units per core. Intel expects to have more than 50 systems providers at general availability with first systems shipping by year’s end. The firm is also putting a lot of effort into the software development kits, something that Wuischpard acknowledged may not have had enough attention for the Knights Corner release. The aim is for the product to be easy to use out of the box, and intuitive. “[We are creating] the iPhone experience for Knights Landing, with scripts, sample codes and the like,” said Wuischpard.

Intel Lustre-based solutions were also covered in the briefing. The business that Intel acquired, formerly known as Whamcloud, was first resident in Intel’s software division. Two months ago, based on the concern that it wasn’t fully being leveraged, Lustre was moved over into the datacenter group. Intel says it is increasing its investment in Lustre, and its has a roadmap for the next two editions as well as a cloud edition with additional features being announced over the next six months. “More than anything we want to be able to make the product easy to use, more enterprise-ready and at the same time build the features that allow you to do extreme-scale I/O,” the VP stated.

Intel Lustre roadmap ISC 2015 slide

Another effort that Intel previewed is the extension of its Intel Cluster Ready program to develop a product built from open source components that will have free and for-fee versions. Intel says its primary goal is to enable a high quality solution at all scales by providing an appliance-like experience targeting smaller or commercial industry sites to support easier HPC stack building and testing.

Intel is also heavily invested in code modernization through its Intel Parallel Computing Centers. To date, Intel has 50 centers around the world including one recently opened in China. In line with this mission, Intel is creating an online community to reach approximately 400,000 developers and partners with tools, trainings and support by the end of the year. Wuischpard observed that when Intel pairs its “Black Belts in parallelism from inside Intel and industry” with subject matter experts to work on specific codes they achieve great results, so Intel is in the process of hiring more Black Belts and formalizing this process to scale coding skills broadly. The firm will also be doing Hackathon-like events with prizes to stimulate more interest.

An expanded HPC Developer Conference, where developers share proven techniques and best practices, is in the works for the US, Asia and Europe. A one-day session held the Sunday before Supercomputing last November drew more than 500 attendees, and Intel expects future events will draw many times this number. The company is also working to cultivate additional Intel code modernization partners. The program is aiming to train 10,000 developers and partners with remote access to Intel clusters and hardware.

For those attending ISC in Frankfurt, Germany, this week, Knights Landing and Omni-Path will be on display at Intel’s booth.

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