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!

IBM Touts OpenPOWER Ecosystem, Announces New Customers, Products for AI and Hyperscale

March 20, 2018

At SC17 in Denver four months ago, Ken King, GM, OpenPOWER, IBM Systems Group, told a somewhat jaundiced trio of journalists that 2018 would, finally, after several years of expectations, be the year OpenPOWER and IBM’ Read more…

By Doug Black

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 scientists the ability to use machine learning to identify e Read more…

By Rob Farber

Mellanox Reacts to Activist Investor Pressures in Letter to Shareholders

March 16, 2018

Activist investor Starboard Value has been exerting pressure on Mellanox Technologies to increase its returns. In response, the high-performance networking company on Monday, March 12, published a letter to shareholders outlining its proposal for a May 2018 extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of shareholders and highlighting its long-term growth strategy and focus on operating margin improvement. Read more…

By Staff

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Harness the Full Power of HPC Servers with an Effective Cooling Approach

High performance computing (HPC) innovation is rapidly transforming the way we operate – with an onslaught of cutting-edge technologies designed to optimize applications and workloads, increase productivity, and enable better business outcomes. Read more…

Quantum Computing vs. Our ‘Caveman Newtonian Brain’: Why Quantum Is So Hard

March 15, 2018

Quantum is coming. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough. Within 10 to 12 years, we’re told, special-purpose quantum systems will enter the commercial realm. Assuming this happens, we can also assume that quantum will, over extended time, become increasingly general purpose as it delivers mind-blowing power. Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Touts OpenPOWER Ecosystem, Announces New Customers, Products for AI and Hyperscale

March 20, 2018

At SC17 in Denver four months ago, Ken King, GM, OpenPOWER, IBM Systems Group, told a somewhat jaundiced trio of journalists that 2018 would, finally, after sev Read more…

By Doug Black

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

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

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theo Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hyperion Tackles Elusive Quantum Computing Landscape

March 13, 2018

Quantum computing - exciting and off-putting all at once - is a kaleidoscope of technology and market questions whose shapes and positions are far from settled. Read more…

By John Russell

Part Two: Navigating Life Sciences Choppy HPC Waters in 2018

March 8, 2018

2017 was not necessarily the best year to build a large HPC system for life sciences say Ari Berman, VP and GM of consulting services, and Aaron Gardner, direct Read more…

By John Russell

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

SciNet Launches Niagara, Canada’s Fastest Supercomputer

March 5, 2018

SciNet and the University of Toronto today unveiled "Niagara," Canada's most-powerful supercomputer, comprising 1,500 dense Lenovo ThinkSystem SD530 high-perfor Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

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

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

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

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

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

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

AMD Wins Another: Baidu to Deploy EPYC on Single Socket Servers

December 13, 2017

When AMD introduced its EPYC chip line in June, the company said a portion of the line was specifically designed to re-invigorate a single socket segment in wha Read more…

By John Russell

World Record: Quantum Computer with 46 Qubits Simulated

December 18, 2017

Scientists from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre have set a new world record. Together with researchers from Wuhan University and the University of Groningen, Read more…

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

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