Making Sense of HPC in the Age of Democratization

By Tiffany Trader

March 8, 2016

These are exciting times for HPC. High-performance computing and its cousin high-productivity computing are expanding such that the previous definitions of HPC as a moving performance target or as the purview of modeling and simulation are breaking down. The democratization of HPC has spurred a lot of focus on the impact that HPC-hatched technologies are having on business computing, but HPC “proper” is also in the midst of a transformation.

To get some perspective on HPC’s shifting market dynamics and the confluence playing out at the intersection of HPC, big data and cloud, we reached out to Ed Turkel, an industry veteran and Dell’s HPC strategist.

The cornerstone of Dell’s solution model, according to Turkel, is “selling systems to democratize HPC.”

“There’s always going to be the customers at the high-end of HPC who are going to drive the technology, who are going to want the absolute most performance that they can get, and are always going to drive the marketplace in that direction,” Turkel states. “But what we are seeing at the other side of the market is a real broadening of the HPC market simply as more and more people use HPC technology to get their work done where there work isn’t traditionally something we associated with HPC.”

Dell’s solution approach to sales, which is tightly aligned with Intel’s Scalable System Framework, targets a class of user that values ease-of-use and ease-of-deployment over absolute maximum performance. Dell does the upfront work to determine what the design of the solution should be, what the software stack should be, and what hardware configuration should be in place. For many of these customers, sizing considerations take precedence over specific speeds and feeds.

“When we talk to the big government labs, they want to know how can we run one big job across thousands and thousands of cores, but that’s not the mainstream of HPC,” Turkel contends. “The mainstream of HPC is running much smaller jobs. You go to the automotive companies, even the tier one automotive companies, for example, that have some fairly large systems, and if you ask them how they use it, they tend not to run single jobs on huge numbers of systems — they have kind of a sweet spot that is the right balance of performance of the application, the cost of the software licenses — remember that a lot of the ISV codes charge by the thread. So there is a sweet spot. If you are not going to use the whole machine, running in a virtualized environment can be very efficient.”

These mid-range users are pulling in more enterprise-hardened technologies and tools to enable more agility, more ease of use, and greater flexibility. Turkel mentions the Tokyo Institute of Technology as a case in point. The Tsubame 2.0 HP machine could be dynamically provisioned to create a pool of virtual supercomputing nodes. The approach gave users the flexibility to run jobs across the system as with a traditional close to the metal environment, or to leverage the virtualized environment for a range of tasks. With virtual machines or today’s lighter-weight container technology, resources can be provisioned to support applications beyond the purview of traditional HPC.

The democratization of HPC has meant that Dell increasingly talks to a different class of user than previously. There are more medium-sized manufacturers, for example, where the volume of HPC work is not enough to keep their systems busy 24-7, so a shared workload approach enables them to do administrative and HPC workloads on one system. Turkel points out that while some of these customers may consider outsourcing to a public cloud provider, at the end of the day there’s enough HPC need to justify the expense of dedicated hardware if they can also use it for administrative tasks.

“More tier one or larger customers will tend to have distinct environments for their HPC work and for their business/administrative tasks and so on,” notes Turkel. “For mid-range customers, they may simply find it more economical to share and that gives them the advantage of having some bigger systems that they can use off-hours for running bigger HPC jobs but during the day take advantage of having all that gear and leverage for their administrative tasks — it’s an interesting model that I think for small and medium businesses that can be a very efficient way of using their systems — they are not the ones that are running these really big jobs that might be consuming their entire system that absolutely needs to be close to the metal because it needs 99.9 percent of the performance potential of the hardware. We dub this high-productivity computing because it’s a very efficient model. Just like virtualization, the goal is better utilization of the gear.”

Turkel cites as a recent example, an academic customer in Latin America. The mid-size university wanted to run all their administrative tasks including the library during operating hours, but then have the system’s full resources available for HPC the rest of the time. A mixed-workload approach made sense in this case because the university isn’t doing enough HPC to justify a dedicated environment, notes Turkel.

While the mid-range academic and industrial customer have some common needs around ease-of-use and ease-of-deployment, distinctions arise in terms of applications and workflows. “If you look at one of the big automotive companies, for example, they tend to run mostly the same set of applications (structural analysis, fluid dynamics, etc.) and they tend to run them a lot,” explains Turkel. “You go into a research environment and on any given day, the mix of applications they are running can be very different, depending upon what the research protocols going on at the university are. It will change from day to day, week to week.”

Because of the application set and the wide user base, the research community tends to require more dynamic and more agile computing environments than is typically true from the large industrial customers.

“For example, the Comet system at San Diego Supercomputing Center is actually set up somewhat as a cloud,” says Turkel. “Because the nature of the academic environment is that a researcher will want to run some set of jobs for the period of time that they are doing a particular research protocol and then give all that up and go on to do something else — so the ability to be able to get access to a part of the system for the purpose of running a particular set of applications and do that in a very dynamic way, makes much more sense in the research environment than is true necessarily in industrial accounts.

“Industrial accounts generally tend to be much more homogeneous in the things that they are doing on a day to day basis — typically running the same sorts of applications. This can change with projects spinning up and down, so they are also looking for agile environments, just not at the same level. It’s not like a professor who will want to run a set of simulations that might take 2-3 weeks; a project for a new vehicle design at an automotive company is something that would take months or even years.”

There’s also been an influx of applications using HPC technology for analytics, alone or in combination with modeling and simulation. “That’s occurring everywhere,” says Turkel, referring to the explosion in data analytics. “The percentage of time that we’re seeing a customer is purely doing traditional HPC is decreasing wildly.”

Life sciences exemplifies this trend, says Turkel. As we move into the age of personalized medicine, scientists are taking rich sets of molecular modeling data and genomics data and analyzing that in relation to clinical data to guide medical treatments and care.

Another example is financial services. Says Turkel: “They are still doing risk analysis, the typical Monte Carlo workloads, but they are also looking at how they can do analytics on all of the transactions that they’ve done with their customers over the years to look at buying patterns. It starts blending the traditional raw modeling/simulation/compute elements with using compute on vast bodies of data in an analytics sense for big data applications — that’s simply becoming more and more common as we look across the different vertical application spaces.”

(Re)defining HPC — It’s complicated

The more ubiquitous HPC becomes the more challenging it is to define. Dell has continued to evolve the in-house training material that it provides for sales and solution architects. “The slide that defines HPC has gotten much more complicated,” Turkel shares. “It used to be pretty simple, modeling and simulation — end of story. Now we talk about traditional HPC with modeling and simulation and we talk about data-centric HPC, which is like HPC but done on larger volumes of data — and we lump seismic analysis and genomics into that — and then high-performance data analytics starts getting into something else.”

With a field like personalized medicine, there is overlap, but then there are new applications, like fraud analysis, notes Turkel. This big analytics application is using HPC technology to prevent transaction fraud. Marketing analytics is another very new phenomenon. This is what allows Amazon to make suggestions to guide your next purchase and it’s why when you search for a gift for your cousin’s wedding, your Web surfing is suddenly dominated by ads for wedding products and services.

Interestingly, according to Turkel, even the use of traditional HPC is becoming more pervasive, driven by economics and the need for competitive advantage.

“When I started doing HPC many moons ago, you looked at the TOP500 list, for example, and you didn’t see too many industrial customers, and you didn’t see too many customers outside of so-called first-world nations, the US, Europe and so on. Now you look at it and it’s like the United Nations — it’s much more economical, so it’s being deployed everywhere. It’s being seen much more as a competitive weapon, as a way for countries, universities and businesses to invest in innovation.”

All of these trends — increased industry use, increased geographic representation and increased use of HPC for analytics – are reflected on the TOP500, says Turkel. “The technology is becoming more pervasive, the use of it is becoming more widely seen as necessary for businesses to be able to innovate.”

HPC’s role as an economic engine is increasingly recognized at the highest levels. This was the message that came out of the White House and the National Strategic Computing Initiative last summer, notes Turkel. “The government is really investing in HPC, not only for the DOD and DOE labs, but also just generally to make the technology more available. It has material impact on everything from healthcare to pick your products. And the analytic side of it is only causing it to grow that much more. As businesses seek to be able to do things like marketing analytics — how far away can you get from traditional HPC than marketing analytics, which is everywhere now.”

“I think what we’re seeing is a natural expansion of the market as it matures,” says Turkel. “As the technology matures, as it becomes more economical, as it becomes more approachable, you will see entities who a few years ago never would have thought of having done anything with HPC are now realizing that this is technology that they need to use to become competitive and innovate in the ways they want to innovate. The democratization and pervasiveness go hand-in-hand. The work being done to democratize HPC – to make it more affordable, more approachable, more easy to use, easy to buy, easy to deploy and so on – is pushing the pervasiveness.”

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!

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combined peak computing capacity, the new systems will extend the a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

ASC18: Tough Applications & Tough Luck

May 17, 2018

The applications at the ASC18 Student Cluster Competition were tough. Tougher than the $3.99 steak special at your local greasy spoon restaurant. The apps are so tough that even Chuck Norris backs away from them slowly. Read more…

By Dan Olds

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and the technology challenges ahead. These discussions happened in Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Japan Meteorological Agency Takes Delivery of Pair of Crays

May 21, 2018

Cray has supplied two identical Cray XC50 supercomputers to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) in northwestern Tokyo. Boasting more than 18 petaflops combine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

PRACE 2017 Annual Report: Exascale Aspirations; Industry Collaboration; HPC Training

May 15, 2018

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) today released its annual report showcasing 2017 activities and providing a glimpse into thinking about Read more…

By John Russell

US Forms AI Brain Trust

May 11, 2018

Amid calls for a U.S. strategy for promoting AI development, the Trump administration is forming a senior-level panel to help coordinate government and industry research efforts. The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was announced Thursday (May 10) during a White House summit organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Read more…

By George Leopold

Emerging Advanced Scale Tech Trends Focus of Annual Tabor Conference

May 9, 2018

At Tabor Communications' annual Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) held this week in Austin, the focus was on enterprise adoption of HPC-class technologies and high performance data analytics (HPDA). It’s a confab that brings together end users (CIOs, IT planners, department heads) and vendors and encourages... Read more…

By the Editorial Team

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

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

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