HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

By Dairsie Latimer

October 10, 2017

No this isn’t about the song from Charlotte’s Web or the Scandinavian predilection for open sandwiches; it’s about the apparent newfound choice in the HPC CPU market.

For the first time since AMD’s ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, ‘Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?’ doesn’t have to be ‘Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure’.

In fact, it’s not just in the x86 market where there is now a genuine choice. Soon we will have at least two credible ARM v8 ISA CPUs (from Cavium and Qualcomm respectively) and IBM have gone all in on the Power architecture (having at one point in the last ten years had four competing HPC CPU lines – x86, Blue Gene, Power and Cell).

In fact, it may even be Intel that is left wondering which horse to back in the HPC CPU race with both Xeon lines looking insufficiently differentiated going forward. A symptom of this dilemma is the recent restructuring of the Xeon line along with associated pricing and feature segmentation.

I’m also quite deliberately avoiding the potentially disruptive appearance of a number of radically different computational solutions being honed for machine learning and which will inevitably have some bearing on HPC in the future.

Have we seen peak Intel?

Intel’s 90+ percent market share in the datacentre has for years worried many observers. While their products have undoubtedly been very good, when you have an effective monopoly, the evolutionary pressure that drives innovation and price competitiveness understandably wanes.

“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” – Andy Grove”

The re-emergence of credible competition can only be a good thing for the wider market, but in HPC things are less clear cut. Intel still holds a strong hand in the game of poker that is HPC procurement, namely AVX-512, but since some of the larger Top500 systems tend to be heterogeneous in nature, is this going to be enough to fend off the challenge from the following pack in other parts of the HPC ecosystem?

IBM and Nvidia are clearly hoping to make significant to make inroads at the top table of HPC with their CORAL generation systems, and Qualcomm and Cavium will also be hoping to chip away at Intel’s monopoly (though they are probably not directly aiming at HPC) but these non-x86 alternatives face significant problems when it comes to showing their capabilities in the HPC space.

AMD have a great opportunity to make gains in the HPC space with their EPYC line (the only x86 competitor) and early signs are encouraging that they will take the fight to Intel and not just on price-performance grounds.

Inertia in HPC is a funny thing

We mainly think of inertia as a property of physical objects but in the HPC industry there is a similar phenomenon relating to application code bases (and languages), instruction sets (and optimised software library ecosystems) and how hard it is to justify doing something different. In the case of HPC, this is really an argument about the barrier to entry for the new HPC CPU vendors, and what they have to be able to demonstrate in order to displace the incumbent (i.e. Intel).

Without trying to evade answering the question, we all hope that the non-Intel vendors can find the right combination of price-performance to chip away at the current Intel dominance in the datacentre. Not because we want to see Intel fail, but because we want them to succeed. Healthy competition is definitely good for users, though less obviously so for Intel’s shareholders.

If all you have is a hammer

“Ah-ha!” I hear you cry, “We already embrace different ISAs and heterogeneity in the Top500.” and indeed we do.  In fact the latest Green500 list is testament to how effective this approach can be. We also know that LINPACK is a historically poor predictor for most actual HPC application performance but we still use it as a flagship benchmark, predominantly because it does a good job of stress testing the computational elements of system architecture. With the march towards exascale now looking more like the retreat from Moscow, there is increasing need to improve the system efficiency for applications that don’t exhibit LINPACK-esque scaling characteristics. Machine learning looks to be the new yardstick so it will be interesting to see the rapid evolution of new solutions and benchmarks.

Moore’s Law in ICU

We should also acknowledge the increasing challenges facing silicon fabrication and process technology. Keeping the Moore’s Law show on the road is hard. This isn’t news to folk in HPC but it is one of the reasons why exascale in under 20MW (anything else looks prohibitively expensive) looks to be an exceedingly challenging goal in the next five years.

Intel are still at the vanguard when it comes to eking out the increasingly esoteric improvements needed, but when you have to re-state what aspects of process naming conventions should matter, you are already rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns.

Moore’s law is an engine that has historically driven significant growth across the board and enabled the in silico renaissance that most HPC users are engaged in, but it is faltering at just the moment that exascale computing systems need a significant uplift in system efficiency. There still need to be huge improvements in parallelism, memory and storage efficiency, and data transmission and that’s even before you start to consider the considerations around fault recovery and software complexity for such huge systems.

We’ve been fairly good at scrambling over the various ‘walls’ we’ve encountered in the last couple of decades but does anyone else have a feeling that we are at the cusp of a period of innovation in HPC that we haven’t seen for some time?

Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark

For the first time in at least five years, the need for comparative benchmarking, conducted as part of your pre- and tender process, is looking to be an absolutely essential step to deliver the best value. Rather than just being viewed as something that provides a little more confidence that the vendors have tuned the MPI implementation and fabric topology, and you know what compiler flags to flip, it will shine a light into some of the dark musty corners that more complacent software developers and vendors have chosen to ignore. If for no other reason it will ensure that the supported pricing you get from your suppliers will be as keen as it should be.

Dairsie Latimer is a Managing Consultant for Red Oak 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!

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Challenges Face Astroinformatics as It Sorts Through the Stars

June 15, 2018

You might have seen one of those YouTube videos: they begin on Earth, slowly zooming out to the Moon, the Solar System, the Milky Way, beyond – and suddenly, you’re looking at trillions of stars. It’s a lot to take Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

The Machine Learning Hype Cycle and HPC

June 14, 2018

Like many other HPC professionals I’m following the hype cycle around machine learning/deep learning with interest. I subscribe to the view that we’re probably approaching the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ but not quite yet starting the descent into the ‘trough of disillusionment. This still raises the probability that... Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

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

Banks Boost Infrastructure to Tackle GDPR

As banks become more digital and data-driven, their IT managers are challenged with fast growing data volumes and lines-of-businesses’ (LoBs’) seemingly limitless appetite for analytics. Read more…

SDSC Researchers Use Machine Learning to More Accurately Model Water

June 13, 2018

Water – H2O – is a simple but fascinating (and useful) compound. San Diego Supercomputing Center researchers used machine learning techniques to develop models for simulations of water with “unprecedented accuracy. Read more…

By Staff

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Machine Learning Hype Cycle and HPC

June 14, 2018

Like many other HPC professionals I’m following the hype cycle around machine learning/deep learning with interest. I subscribe to the view that we’re probably approaching the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ but not quite yet starting the descent into the ‘trough of disillusionment. This still raises the probability that... Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Xiaoxiang Zhu Receives the 2018 PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC

June 13, 2018

Xiaoxiang Zhu, who works for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Technical University of Munich (TUM), was awarded the 2018 PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC for her outstanding contributions in the field of high performance computing (HPC) in Europe. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake

U.S Considering Launch of National Quantum Initiative

June 11, 2018

Sometime this month the U.S. House Science Committee will introduce legislation to launch a 10-year National Quantum Initiative, according to a recent report by Read more…

By John Russell

ORNL Summit Supercomputer Is Officially Here

June 8, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) together with IBM and Nvidia celebrated the official unveiling of the Department of Energy (DOE) Summit supercomputer toda Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Exascale USA – Continuing to Move Forward

June 6, 2018

The end of May 2018, saw several important events that continue to advance the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI) for the United Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Exascale for the Rest of Us: Exaflops Systems Capable for Industry

June 6, 2018

Enterprise advanced scale computing – or HPC in the enterprise – is an entity unto itself, situated between (and with characteristics of) conventional enter Read more…

By Doug Black

Fracas in Frankfurt: ISC18 Cluster Competition Teams Unveiled

June 6, 2018

The Student Cluster Competition season heats up with the seventh edition of the ISC Student Cluster Competition, slated to begin on June 25th in Frankfurt, Germ Read more…

By Dan Olds

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

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

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

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

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

ORNL Summit Supercomputer Is Officially Here

June 8, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) together with IBM and Nvidia celebrated the official unveiling of the Department of Energy (DOE) Summit supercomputer toda 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

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17

Altair

AMD @ SC17

AMD

ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack

CEJN @ SC17

CEJN

DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17

Huawei

IBM @ SC17

IBM

IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17

Intel

Lenovo @ SC17

Lenovo

Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17

Microsoft

Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17

Supericro

Tyan @ SC17

Tyan

Univa @ SC17

Univa

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

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

Google I/O 2018: AI Everywhere; TPU 3.0 Delivers 100+ Petaflops but Requires Liquid Cooling

May 9, 2018

All things AI dominated discussion at yesterday’s opening of Google’s I/O 2018 developers meeting covering much of Google's near-term product roadmap. The e Read more…

By John Russell

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

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Franci Read more…

By John Russell

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Charts Two-Dimensional Quantum Course

April 26, 2018

Quantum error correction, essential for achieving universal fault-tolerant quantum computation, is one of the main challenges of the quantum computing field and it’s top of mind for Google’s John Martinis. At a presentation last week at the HPC User Forum in Tucson, Martinis, one of the world's foremost experts in quantum computing, emphasized... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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