HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

By Alex R. Larzelere

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be carefully woven together by people to create the computational capabilities that are used to deliver insights into the behaviors of complex systems. This collection of technologies and people has been called the High Performance Computing (HPC) ecosystem. This is an appropriate metaphor because it evokes the complicated nature of the interdependent elements needed to deliver first of a kind computing systems.

The idea of the HPC ecosystem has been around for years and most recently appeared in one of the objectives for the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). The 4th objective calls for “Increasing the capacity and capability of an enduring national HPC ecosystem.” This leads to the questions of, “what makes up the HPC ecosystem” and why is it so important? Perhaps the more important question is, why does the United States need to be careful about letting its HPC ecosystem diminish?

The heart of the HPC ecosystem is clearly the “big humming boxes” that contain the advanced computing hardware. The rows upon rows of cabinets are the focal point of the electronic components, operating software, and application programs that provide the capabilities that produce the results used to create new scientific and engineering insights that are the real purpose of the HPC ecosystem. However, it is misleading to think that any one computer at any one time is sufficient to make up an ecosystem. Rather, the HPC ecosystem requires a continuous pipeline of computer hardware and software. It is that continuous flow of developing technologies that keeps HPC progressing on the cutting edge.

The hardware element of the pipeline includes systems and components that are under development, but are not currently available. This includes the basic research that will create the scientific discoveries that enable new approaches to computer designs. The ongoing demand for “cutting edge” systems is important to keep system and component designers pushing the performance envelope. The pipeline also includes the currently installed highest performance systems. These are the systems that are being tested and optimized. Every time a system like this is installed, technology surprises are found that must be identified and accommodated. The hardware pipeline also includes systems on the trailing edge. At this point, the computer hardware is quite stable and allows a focus on developing and optimizing modeling and simulation applications.

One of the greatest challenges of maintaining the HPC ecosystem is recognizing that there are significant financial commitments needed to keep the pipeline filled. There are many examples of organizations that believed that buying a single big computer would make them part of the ecosystem. In those cases, they were right, but only temporarily. Being part of the HPC ecosystem requires being committed to buying the next cutting-edge system based on the lessons learned from the last system.

Another critical element of the HPC ecosystem is software. This generally falls into two categories – software needed to operate the computer (also called middleware or the “stack”) and software that provides insights into end user questions (called applications). Middleware plays the critical role of managing the operations of the hardware systems and enabling the execution of applications software. Middleware includes computer operating systems, file systems and network controllers. This type of software also includes compilers that translate application programs into the machine language that will be executed on hardware. There are quite a number of other pieces of middleware software that include libraries of commonly needed functions, programming tools, performance monitors, and debuggers.

Applications software span a wide range and are as varied as the problems users want to address through computation. Some applications are quick “throwaway” (prototype) attempts to explore potential ways in which computers may be used to address a problem. Other applications software is written, sometimes with different solution methods, to simulate physical behaviors of complex systems. This software will sometimes last for decades and will be progressively improved. An important aspect of these types of applications is the experimental validation data that provide confidence that the results can be trusted. For this type of applications software, setting up the problem that can include finite element mesh generation, populating that mesh with material properties and launching the execution are important parts of the ecosystem. Other elements of usability of application software include the computers, software, and displays that allow users to visualize and explore simulation results.

Data is yet another essential element of the HPC ecosystem. Data is the lifeblood in the circulatory system that flows through the system to keep it doing useful things. The HPC ecosystem includes systems that hold and move data from one element to another. Hardware aspects of the data system include memory, storage devices, and networking. Also software device drivers and file systems are needed to keep track of the data. With the growing trend to add machine learning and artificial intelligence to the HPC ecosystem, its ability to process and productively use data are becoming increasingly significant.

Finally, and most importantly, trained and highly skilled people are an essential part of the HPC ecosystem. Just like computing systems, these people make up a “pipeline” that starts in elementary school and continues through undergraduate and then advanced degrees. Attracting and educating these people in computing technologies is critical. Another important part of the people pipeline of the HPC ecosystem are the jobs offered by academia, national labs, government, and industry. These professional experiences provide the opportunities needed to practice and hone HPC skills.

The origins of the United States’ HPC ecosystem dates back to the decision by the U.S. Army Research Lab to procure an electronic computer to calculate ballistic tables for its artillery during World War II (i.e. ENIAC). That event led to finding and training the people, who in many cases were women, to program and operate the computer. The ENIAC was just the start of the nation’s significant investment in hardware, middleware software, and applications. However, just because the United States was the first does not mean that it was alone. Europe and Japan also have robust HPC ecosystems for years and most recently China has determinedly set out to create one of their own.

The United States and other countries made the necessary investments in their HPC ecosystems because they understood the strategic advantages that staying at the cutting edge of computing provides. These well-document advantages apply to many areas that include: national security, discovery science, economic competitiveness, energy security and curing diseases.

The challenge of maintaining the HPC ecosystem is that, just like a natural ecosystem, the HPC version can be threatened by becoming too narrow and lacking diversity. This applies to the hardware, middleware, and applications software. Betting on just a few types of technologies can be disastrous if one approach fails. Diversity also means having and using a healthy range of systems that covers the highest performance cutting edge systems to wide deployment of mid and low-end production systems. Another aspect of diversity is the range of applications that can productively use on advanced computing resources.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to an ecosystem is complacency and assuming that it, and the necessary people, will always be there. This can take the form of an attitude that it is good enough to become a HPC technology follower and acceptable to purchase HPC systems and services from other nations. Once a HPC ecosystem has been lost, it is not clear if it can be regained. Having a robust HPC ecosystem can last for decades, through many “half lives” of hardware. A healthy ecosystem allows puts countries in a leadership position and this means the ability to influence HPC technologies in ways that best serve their strategic goals. Happily, the 4th NSCI objective signals that the United States understands these challenges and the importance of maintaining a healthy HPC ecosystem.

About the Author

Alex Larzelere is a senior fellow at the U.S. Council on Competitiveness, the president of Larzelere & Associates Consulting and HPCwire’s policy editor. He is currently a technologist, speaker and author on a number of disruptive technologies that include: advanced modeling and simulation; high performance computing; artificial intelligence; the Internet of Things; and additive manufacturing. Alex’s career has included time in federal service (working closely with DOE national labs), private industry, and as founder of a small business. Throughout that time, he led programs that implemented the use of cutting edge advanced computing technologies to enable high resolution, multi-physics simulations of complex physical systems. Alex is the author of “Delivering Insight: The History of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI).”

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!

At Long Last, Supercomputing Helps to Map the Poles

August 22, 2019

“For years,” Paul Morin wrote, “those of us that made maps of the Poles apologized. We apologized for the blank spaces on maps, we apologized for mountains being in the wrong place and out-of-date information.” Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Xilinx Says Its New FPGA is World’s Largest

August 21, 2019

In this age of exploding “technology disaggregation” – in which the Big Bang emanating from the Intel x86 CPU has produced significant advances in CPU chips and a raft of alternative, accelerated architectures... Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputers Generate Universes to Illuminate Galactic Formation

August 20, 2019

With advanced imaging and satellite technologies, it’s easier than ever to see a galaxy – but understanding how they form (a process that can take billions of years) is a different story. Now, a team of researchers f Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Efficiency and Cost-Optimization for HPC Workloads – AWS Batch and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances

High Performance Computing on AWS leverages the power of cloud computing and the extreme scale it offers to achieve optimal HPC price/performance. With AWS you can right size your services to meet exactly the capacity requirements you need without having to overprovision or compromise capacity. Read more…

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Bring the combined power of HPC and AI to your business transformation

FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) acceleration cards are not new, as they’ve been commercially available since 1984. Typically, the emphasis around FPGAs has centered on the fact that they’re programmable accelerators, and that they can truly offer workload specific hardware acceleration solutions without requiring custom silicon. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Keys to Attracting the Newest HPC Talent – Post-Millennials

[Connect with HPC users and learn new skills in the IBM Spectrum LSF User Community.]

For engineers and scientists growing up in the 80s, the current state of HPC makes perfect sense. Read more…

Singularity Moves Up the Container Value Chain

August 20, 2019

The enterprise version of the Singularity HPC container platform released this week by Sylabs is designed to allow users to create, secure and share the high-end containers in self-hosted production deployments. The e Read more…

By George Leopold

At Long Last, Supercomputing Helps to Map the Poles

August 22, 2019

“For years,” Paul Morin wrote, “those of us that made maps of the Poles apologized. We apologized for the blank spaces on maps, we apologized for mountains being in the wrong place and out-of-date information.” Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM Deepens Plunge into Open Source; OpenPOWER to Join Linux Foundation

August 20, 2019

IBM today announced it was contributing the instruction set (ISA) for its Power microprocessor and the designs for the Open Coherent Accelerator Processor Inter Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Scientists to Tap Exascale Computing to Unlock the Mystery of our Accelerating Universe

August 14, 2019

The universe and everything in it roared to life with the Big Bang approximately 13.8 billion years ago. It has continued expanding ever since. While we have a Read more…

By Rob Johnson

AI is the Next Exascale – Rick Stevens on What that Means and Why It’s Important

August 13, 2019

Twelve years ago the Department of Energy (DOE) was just beginning to explore what an exascale computing program might look like and what it might accomplish. Today, DOE is repeating that process for AI, once again starting with science community town halls to gather input and stimulate conversation. The town hall program... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader and John Russell

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lenovo Drives Single-Socket Servers with AMD Epyc Rome CPUs

August 7, 2019

No summer doldrums here. As part of the AMD Epyc Rome launch event in San Francisco today, Lenovo announced two new single-socket servers, the ThinkSystem SR635 Read more…

By Doug Black

High Performance (Potato) Chips

May 5, 2006

In this article, we focus on how Procter & Gamble is using high performance computing to create some common, everyday supermarket products. Tom Lange, a 27-year veteran of the company, tells us how P&G models products, processes and production systems for the betterment of consumer package goods. Read more…

By Michael Feldman

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray, AMD to Extend DOE’s Exascale Frontier

May 7, 2019

Cray and AMD are coming back to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to partner on the world’s largest and most expensive supercomputer. The Department of Energy’s Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphene Surprises Again, This Time for Quantum Computing

May 8, 2019

Graphene is fascinating stuff with promise for use in a seeming endless number of applications. This month researchers from the University of Vienna and Institu Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Verifies Its Largest 7nm Chip Design in Ten Hours

June 5, 2019

AMD announced last week that its engineers had successfully executed the first physical verification of its largest 7nm chip design – in just ten hours. The AMD Radeon Instinct Vega20 – which boasts 13.2 billion transistors – was tested using a TSMC-certified Calibre nmDRC software platform from Mentor. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

TSMC and Samsung Moving to 5nm; Whither Moore’s Law?

June 12, 2019

With reports that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TMSC) and Samsung are moving quickly to 5nm manufacturing, it’s a good time to again ponder whither goes the venerable Moore’s law. Shrinking feature size has of course been the primary hallmark of achieving Moore’s law... Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning Competitors Stalk Nvidia

May 14, 2019

There is no shortage of processing architectures emerging to accelerate deep learning workloads, with two more options emerging this week to challenge GPU leader Nvidia. First, Intel researchers claimed a new deep learning record for image classification on the ResNet-50 convolutional neural network. Separately, Israeli AI chip startup Hailo.ai... Read more…

By George Leopold

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Nvidia Embraces Arm, Declares Intent to Accelerate All CPU Architectures

June 17, 2019

As the Top500 list was being announced at ISC in Frankfurt today with an upgraded petascale Arm supercomputer in the top third of the list, Nvidia announced its Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Top500 Purely Petaflops; US Maintains Performance Lead

June 17, 2019

With the kick-off of the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt this morning, the 53rd Top500 list made its debut, and this one's for petafl Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Hardware That Powered the Black Hole Image

June 24, 2019

Two months ago, the first-ever image of a black hole took the internet by storm. A team of scientists took years to produce and verify the striking image – an Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray – and the Cray Brand – to Be Positioned at Tip of HPE’s HPC Spear

May 22, 2019

More so than with most acquisitions of this kind, HPE’s purchase of Cray for $1.3 billion, announced last week, seems to have elements of that overused, often Read more…

By Doug Black and Tiffany Trader

Chinese Company Sugon Placed on US ‘Entity List’ After Strong Showing at International Supercomputing Conference

June 26, 2019

After more than a decade of advancing its supercomputing prowess, operating the world’s most powerful supercomputer from June 2013 to June 2018, China is keep Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Qualcomm Invests in RISC-V Startup SiFive

June 7, 2019

Investors are zeroing in on the open standard RISC-V instruction set architecture and the processor intellectual property being developed by a batch of high-flying chip startups. Last fall, Esperanto Technologies announced a $58 million funding round. Read more…

By George Leopold

Intel 7nm GPU on Roadmap for 2021, OneAPI Coming This Year

May 8, 2019

At Intel's investor meeting today in Santa Clara, Calif., the company filled in details of its roadmap and product launch plans and sought to allay concerns about delays of its 10nm chips. In laying out its 10nm and 7nm timelines, Intel revealed that its first 7nm product would be... 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