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!

Pfizer HPC Engineer Aims to Automate Software Stack Testing

January 17, 2019

Seeking to reign in the tediousness of manual software testing, Pfizer HPC Engineer Shahzeb Siddiqui is developing an open source software tool called buildtest, aimed at automating software stack testing by providing the community with a central repository of tests for common HPC apps and the ability to automate execution of testing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Senegal Prepares to Take Delivery of Atos Supercomputer

January 16, 2019

In just a few months time, Senegal will be operating the second largest HPC system in sub-Saharan Africa. The Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation Mary Teuw Niane made the announcement on Monday (Jan. 14 Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three big public cloud vendors has by turn touted the latest and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Systems With Intel Omni-Path: Architected for Value and Accessible High-Performance Computing

Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) users value high performing clusters. And the higher the performance that their system can deliver, the better. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Resource Management in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

New challenges demand fresh approaches

Fueled by GPUs, big data, and rapid advances in software, the AI revolution is upon us. Read more…

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchmark or suite of benchmarking tools to compare the performanc Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchm Read more…

By John Russell

A Big Data Journey While Seeking to Catalog our Universe

January 16, 2019

It turns out, astronomers have lots of photos of the sky but seek knowledge about what the photos mean. Sound familiar? Big data problems are often characterize Read more…

By James Reinders

Intel Bets Big on 2-Track Quantum Strategy

January 15, 2019

Quantum computing has lived so long in the future it’s taken on a futuristic life of its own, with a Gartner-style hype cycle that includes triggers of innovation, inflated expectations and – though a useful quantum system is still years away – anticipatory troughs of disillusionment. Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM’s New Global Weather Forecasting System Runs on GPUs

January 9, 2019

Anyone who has checked a forecast to decide whether or not to pack an umbrella knows that weather prediction can be a mercurial endeavor. It is a Herculean task: the constant modeling of incredibly complex systems to a high degree of accuracy at a local level within very short spans of time. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

HPE No. 1, IBM Surges, in ‘Bucking Bronco’ High Performance Server Market

September 27, 2018

Riding healthy U.S. and global economies, strong demand for AI-capable hardware and other tailwind trends, the high performance computing server market jumped 28 percent in the second quarter 2018 to $3.7 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to industry analyst firm Hyperion Research. Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Confirms 48-Core Cascade Lake-AP for 2019

November 4, 2018

As part of the run-up to SC18, taking place in Dallas next week (Nov. 11-16), Intel is doling out info on its next-gen Cascade Lake family of Xeon processors, specifically the “Advanced Processor” version (Cascade Lake-AP), architected for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and infrastructure-as-a-service workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Germany Celebrates Launch of Two Fastest Supercomputers

September 26, 2018

The new high-performance computer SuperMUC-NG at the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Garching is the fastest computer in Germany and one of the fastest i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

Houston to Field Massive, ‘Geophysically Configured’ Cloud Supercomputer

October 11, 2018

Based on some news stories out today, one might get the impression that the next system to crack number one on the Top500 would be an industrial oil and gas mon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft to Buy Mellanox?

December 20, 2018

Networking equipment powerhouse Mellanox could be an acquisition target by Microsoft, according to a published report in an Israeli financial publication. Microsoft has reportedly gone so far as to engage Goldman Sachs to handle negotiations with Mellanox. Read more…

By Doug Black

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This