A Decade in HPC

By Addison Snell

November 15, 2016

A lot can change in ten years. We might move houses or change jobs. Our kids get older (and so do we). If we’re lucky we make new friends, and we’re sad when old ones pass into memory. There are some things we hold onto—our core values, our driving passions—and over ten years, we hope to see progress toward our goals, so that when we look back on a decade, we see how far we’ve come.

This is our tenth Supercomputing Conference since starting Intersect360 Research in January 2007 (as Tabor Research then, a division of Tabor Communications), and it’s been a decade of change. It’s hard to think of industries that evolve as rapidly as HPC. Most other advancements you’d think of—in scientific research, manufacturing, electronics, entertainment, transportation—have ties to HPC. Year by year, HPC influences the arc of change in our lives.

As part of a retrospective on our ten years as HPC analysts, I reviewed what the industry looked like when we began, along with the predictions we made along the way. Ten years ago, our industry looked a lot different.

  • Beowulf-style x86 clusters were the dominant paradigm, and blade form factors were about to take off, but Intel was not the number-one processor vendor for HPC clusters in 2006. (It was AMD.)
  • Grid computing was still a common topic, and cloud computing had not yet taken hold.
  • The U.S. was indisputably the leader in supercomputing. The BlueGene/L system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories was in the middle of its streak of number-one rankings on the TOP500 list, having recently doubled in capacity to 136 teraflops.
  • InfiniBand overtook all other non-Ethernet interconnects for the first time, with Mellanox as the only silicon provider. (QLogic announced its entrance two years later, at SC08.)
  • Parallel file systems were uncommon, though in 2007 Panasas would begin a major campaign around pNFS, and Sun Microsystems acquired Cluster File Systems, Inc., which owned Lustre. IBM had GPFS but had not yet acquired Platform Computing.
  • Most importantly, it was the dawn of the multicore era. AMD, IBM, and Intel were all shipping dual-core CPUs, with roadmaps leading to four, eight, and more. This would prove to be the most definitive shift that changed the face of HPC.

intersect360logoIt was into this industry landscape that we brought our new HPC analyst company. We founded Intersect360 Research (as Tabor Research then) with an eye on doing something different, relying primarily on forward-looking surveys of the broad HPC community to drive a better understanding of future trends.

Furthermore, we strove to be inclusive of non-traditional use cases of HPC in business, calling it “Edge HPC” in 2007 before later changing its name to “High Performance Business Computing,” the nomenclature we still use today. As part of that effort, we identified financial services as one of the largest commercial vertical markets for HPC. And another segment proved controversial, as we also counted what we then called “ultrascale internet” as a consumer of HPC technologies. Today we still track this segment, but it is modernly called “hyperscale,” and it has grown and evolved into its own market, adjacent to HPC but not part of it.

That early recognition of the hyperscale market is far from the only future-looking insight we had. In 2007, we published research that predicted that business applications would drive the growth in the HPC industry, which they have. (Finance is still a top segment, and all commercial markets have been growing.) We also said that year that grappling with large amounts of data the need for systems focused on data management. Okay, we didn’t call it “Big Data” at the time, but the trend was there.

And that transition to multicore? We saw what that was doing too. We predicted it would lead to power consumption as a top-tier consideration, and that there would be an increased investment in middleware. We said in 2007 that GPUs would become a predominant accelerator architecture, beginning at the entry-level and working their way up in scale. And we perceived a growing gap between delivered and actual performance.

We thought at the time that this would lead the industry to beginning to devalue raw metrics of performance, such as flops, in favor of truer productivity metrics, and we even used the term “High Productivity Computing” for a while. That’s one we got wrong, at least as far as the last ten years is concerned, though we do hear talk now of “Exascale” rather than “Exaflops,” a tentative step in that direction.

Along the way, there were also the things we said wouldn’t happen. Although Big Data swept through IT, we said the applicability and usage of Hadoop would be limited, and that Hadoop wouldn’t make a big dent in HPC. Bolstered by evidence in our surveys, we also said that HPC would be very slow to adopt public cloud resources. Today, less that 3 percent of HPC spending is in public cloud, though we do now project double-digit growth for the next five years.

The biggest change of all was more recent, when for the last three years we began to recognize the end of the “Beowulf era,” as defined by clusters of similar architecture, where regardless of vendor or form factor, there was simple portability of MPI codes from one system to the next. That has passed, and we now swing back toward an era of specialization, in which end users must select which architectures to optimize for, and they may wind up committed for many years. Furthermore, 88 percent of HPC users say they will support multiple architectures, matching applications to the systems where they run best.

The Decade Ahead

The next 10 years are certain to bring even more change in HPC. At a recent presentation for the HPC Advisory Council, we predicted that specialized, custom architectures will reemerge, that public cloud will remain less than 10 percent of HPC spending, and that object storage will begin to take off in commercial markets.

And the biggest change of all is in evidence this week at SC16. The influence of hyperscale will be felt strongly, in software and middleware (e.g., OpenStack), in system configurations (e.g. Open Compute Project), and most particularly in the hottest new application area: artificial intelligence.

AI (including its other names, like “cognitive computing,” and inclusive of algorithms like machine learning and deep learning) will have a transformative effect on industry and our lives. As with HPC, there are few limits to imagining what can eventually be done with it. And it will drive the use of certain HPC technologies, particularly among the large cloud providers. One difference between AI and HPC is its strong affinity to cloud.

Amongst all this change, a few things will remain the same. The fundamental drivers of the HPC market will remain strong, because there will always be new insights to glean and harder problems to solve. Regardless of any hot, new application areas, there will continue to be a need for good old traditional HPC and supercomputing, until one day we wake up and decide we’ve reached the end of science. And for the next ten years and into the future, Intersect360 Research will remain true to its foundational goal, to deliver critical industry insights, year after year.

About the Author

addison-snellAddison Snell is the CEO of Intersect360 Research and a veteran of the high performance computing industry. He launched the company in 2007 as Tabor Research, a division of Tabor Communications, and served as that company’s VP/GM until he and his partner, Christopher Willard, Ph.D., acquired Tabor Research in 2009. During his tenure, Addison has established Intersect360 Research as a premier source of market information, analysis, and consulting.

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!

And So It Begins…Again – The FY19 Exascale Budget Rollout (and things look good)

February 23, 2018

On February 12, 2018, the Trump administration submitted its Fiscal Year 2019 (FY-19) budget to Congress. The good news for the U.S. exascale program is that the numbers look very good and the support appears to be stron Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

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 partner Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Germany. The ser Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Start-up Aims AI at Automated Tuning of Complex Systems

February 22, 2018

Today’s bigger, more complex, connected and intelligent systems have an exponentially higher number of connections, dependencies, interfaces, protocols and processing architectures that, if not optimized, will hamstrin Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Experience Memory & Storage Solutions that will Transform Your Data Performance

High performance computing (HPC) has revolutionized the way we harness insight, leading to a dramatic increase in both the size and complexity of HPC systems. Read more…

Do Cryptocurrencies Have a Part to Play in HPC?

February 22, 2018

It’s easy to be distracted by news from the US, China, and now the EU on the state of various exascale projects, but behind the vinyl-wrapped cabinets and well-groomed sales execs are an army of Excel-wielding PMO and Read more…

By Chris Downing

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

Start-up Aims AI at Automated Tuning of Complex Systems

February 22, 2018

Today’s bigger, more complex, connected and intelligent systems have an exponentially higher number of connections, dependencies, interfaces, protocols and pr Read more…

By Doug Black

HOKUSAI’s BigWaterfall Cluster Extends RIKEN’s Supercomputing Performance

February 21, 2018

RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution, recently expanded the capacity and capabilities of its HOKUSAI supercomputer, a key resource manage Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. Read more…

By John Russell

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

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

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

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

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

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a 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

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

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

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

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