Federal Investment in Exascale – What It Really Means

By Dairsie Latimer

October 10, 2018

Perspective — Earlier this month, the EuroHPC JU (Joint Undertaking) reached critical mass, and it seems all EU and affiliated member states, bar the UK (unsurprisingly), have or will sign on.

The EuroHPC JU was born from a recognition that individual EU member states, and the EU as a whole, were significantly underinvesting in HPC compared to the US, China and Japan, who all have their own exascale investment and delivery strategies (NSCI, 13th 5 Year Plan, Post-K, etc).

The €1.4 billion so far earmarked comes from a repurposing of some €486 million of Horizon 2020 money, the balance coming from participating member states and commercial investment (for which the joint undertaking was necessary). In addition, a further €2.7 billion has so far been earmarked in future Digital Europe programme (2021-2027) budgets to build on the foundational work carried out by the EuroHPC project and deliver several exascale and post-exascale systems.

The intention is to deliver some pre-exascale systems and foster the creation and curation of an indigenous (or at least principally European) exascale HPC infrastructure. This ensures that key components (CPU, fabric and software stack) are based on EU derived or licensed IP and better still there is a strong inward investment component. It will also look at enlarging the pool of HPC enabled users and the expansion of existing, and creation of new, HPC competence centres to engage industry and academia alike.

Although the Commission is to be congratulated for finally listening to over twenty years of industry advice that HPC is important and central to a research-led boost to economic growth, the initiative feels like a missed opportunity.

Is €1.4 billion enough to buy in at the high-stakes game of exascale HPC?

If we look at investment in HPC, the one thing that we know beyond any measure is that it needs to be long term. Yes shiny tin with lots of flashing lights gets good PR but the real derived benefit to HPC is in the advancement of science, improved research and development. For this to work you need investment in people too. The EuroHPC project is cognisant of this and while €1.4 billion may sound like a lot of money, let’s put this into some context.

As part of the National Science Computing Initiative launched in 2015, the US administration has so far installed two exascale pathfinder systems (Summit and Sierra) with two more scheduled for late 2020 (as well as the retooled A21 in 2021). In April the DoE announced the CORAL-2 RFP which earmarks a further $1.8 billion for two, and potentially three, exascale supers to be delivered between 2021 and 2023. So let’s make that a cool $2.8 billion over five years. The NSF and the DoD, both part of the NSCI, also have their own annual HPC budgets which are in the $100’s of millions per year. Add into the mix the DARPA multi-billion, multi-year research projects, which funnel money into the indigenous HPC suppliers R&D programmes, you have a very substantial funding stream.

Japan has also long had a state-funded HPC programme. The latest iteration of which is roughly a five-year, $1 billion programme, to be spent on developing and installing the Post-K computer. Post-K is explicitly not slated to be exascale, but the goal is to deliver a 100x increase in application performance on a range of scientific codes. The CPU and fabric for the system are built on the back of decades of internal investment by the Japanese government and Fujitsu in HPC architecture and so do not represent going from a standing start, and there are commitments to buy a number of smaller systems in the $100-150 million range.

China has made funding of HPC a national priority with at least the last two 5-year plans (investing over $1 billion a year in R&D), and with the 13th 5-year plan it has explicitly made installing and operating a number of exascale installations a key priority (as well as three pre-exascale systems in the period 2018-2019). China not only has a federal funding model but it also has the political desire to ensure it is not reliant on non-indigenous technologies. China is also pushing a huge investment programme in semiconductors ($22 billion in 2014 and a further $47 billion announced in May 2018) to cut its reliance on non-indigenous devices. While this is clearly a long-term strategy, it has already paid dividends in recent years in strengthening its HPC programme.

The EU, like every other large socioeconomic block concerned about technology sovereignty, has always had a range of funding vehicles for HPC, most notably Horizon 2020. Of course the EuroHPC JU is not the only investment into pan-European HPC, with other investment streams typically amounting to around the €1 billion a year mark. This means that the figures announced by the EuroHPC, while welcome and represent a refocussing for effect; they do not represent a step change in funding.

Now let’s put HPC funding into stark relief

Intel spends approximately $12-13 billion a year on research and development in an industry segment where the total estimated investment in semiconductor R&D was in the region of $59 billion in 2017. Amazon set a new record for a US company and spent $22.6 billion on R&D in 2017. Outside IT, companies such as Volkswagen spend roughly $12-14 billion per annum on R&D (outspending other companies in the automotive industry by between 25 and 100 percent) and many pharma companies spend in the region of $10 billion per annum.

Over the two year period covered by the current EuroHPC JU (2019-2020), the EU economy as a whole will spend approximately €600 billion on R&D.[1] German investment in R&D alone will be somewhere north of €200 billion. Will another €1.4 billion really do much to influence things? One question to ponder is if HPC is really so valuable to companies and offers such remarkable return on investment, why aren’t federal governments doing more to increase its use?

Of course some of the EuroHPC programme is being pitched as an infrastructure investment so we can put this into further perspective by looking at the scale of infrastructure investments that are being made at the same time. I’ll take the EU and the UK as examples and it’s left to the reader to find the equivalents in their own countries.

High Speed 2, the UK’s improved rail link from London to “The North,” is currently budgeted at around £56 billion (and will doubtless come in massively over budget and late as most UK infrastructure investments seem to be). The London Olympics came in at almost £9 billion. Even the Stockholm bypass project is costed at over €3 billion. Or put another way, improving European HPC infrastructure is significantly less important than putting in a bypass for a town of less than 1 million inhabitants (and by implication delivers less value)!

However, it’s hard to be convinced regarding the economic impact. With such a modest ambition, it is very unlikely that the new funding will end up anywhere except “the usual suspects”: the almost exclusively academic centres and National Champions that are already well plumbed into the European scene. Because it’s all about the people at the end of the day, generating high-tech clusters takes years and many years of sustained investment. One-off capital grants rarely succeed.

However, one area where it might make a difference is in the creation of a core set of European HPC components, to allow Europe to be less reliant on US-developed technologies.

The worldwide HPC market is not especially large (something in the region of $12 billion in 2017 for server hardware – this is separate from hardware expenditure for enterprise). To put this into context, Cray’s worldwide turnover is projected to be about $450 million in 2018. If a legal way can be found to funnel the €1 billion through a small number of European hardware companies, deploying a European CPU, interconnect, storage and software technologies, then it will be transformational for these companies and, in turn, make a very substantial difference to the HPC supplier landscape.

Chicken or the egg?

We all think that HPC is important; at least I’m making the presumption you do since you are reading this. But we somehow think that much of industry hasn’t yet quite got the message. Do we really need a series of pre-exascale machines to show them the light and make them invest in HPC?

The answer to that is probably a no. What industry needs most is people, followed closely by applications that allow them to solve their problems to a higher order of fidelity and faster. If the money that is earmarked by the EuroHPC JU for industry collaboration doesn’t tackle these issues, leading to a sustained period of investment in training and development then it will be doomed to fail when assessed against the wider context.

Yet there is an element of chicken-and-egg, in that infrastructure investments are needed to provide the free cycles given to SMEs. Without a larger cadre of HPC-enabled scientists and engineers then the expected productivity gains simply won’t materialise and nor will industry invest into more significant HPC infrastructure itself.

Industry will almost always buy what it needs from the global market. For all major powers, not just the EU, surety of HPC capability is very much a national security topic. In times of economic uncertainty and international tensions, it makes sense to maintain a degree of technical sovereignty for compute and HPC technologies, and if these cannot be wholly supported by a domestic market then these matters will take on a far more significant political overtone as they have elsewhere globally.

Europe it seems is the last major economic block to decide that it needs a longer-term strategy.                                                                                       

About the Author

Dairsie Latimer, Technical Advisor at Red Oak Consulting, has a somewhat eclectic background, having worked in a variety of roles on supplier side and client side across the commercial and public sectors as an consultant and software engineer. Following an early career in computer graphics, micro-architecture design and full stack software development, he has over twelve years’ specialist experience in the HPC sector, ranging from developing low-level libraries and software for novel computing architectures to porting complex HPC applications to a range of accelerators. Dairise joined Red Oak Consulting (@redoakHPC) in 2010 bringing his wealth of experience to both the business and customers.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/R_%26_D_expenditure

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!

Arm Unveils Neoverse N1 Platform with up to 128-Cores

February 20, 2019

Following on its Neoverse roadmap announcement last October, Arm today revealed its next-gen Neoverse microarchitecture with compute and throughput-optimized silicon designs catered toward general-purpose cloud computing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Internet of Criminal Things—Trust in the Gods but Verify!

February 20, 2019

“Are we under attack?” asked Professor Elmarie Biermann of the Cyber Security Institute during the recent South African Centre for High Performance Computing’s (CHPC) National Conference in Cape Town. A quick show Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

Machine Learning Takes Heat for Science’s Reproducibility Crisis

February 19, 2019

Scientists are raising red flags about the accuracy and reproducibility of conclusions drawn by machine learning frameworks. Among the remedies are developing new ML systems that can question their own predictions, show Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture: How to Power a Cloud

Learn how HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture provide critical infrastructure for leading Nordic HPC provider’s HPCFLOW cloud service.

powercloud_blog.jpgFor decades, HPE has been at the forefront of high-performance computing, and we’ve powered some of the fastest and most robust supercomputers in the world. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

The Perils of Becoming Trapped in the Cloud

Terms like ‘open systems’ have been bandied about for decades. While modern computer systems are relatively open compared to their predecessors, there are still plenty of opportunities to become locked into proprietary interfaces. Read more…

What’s New in HPC Research: Wind Farms, Gravitational Lenses, Web Portals & More

February 19, 2019

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Arm Unveils Neoverse N1 Platform with up to 128-Cores

February 20, 2019

Following on its Neoverse roadmap announcement last October, Arm today revealed its next-gen Neoverse microarchitecture with compute and throughput-optimized si Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Insights from Optimized Codes on Cineca’s Marconi

February 15, 2019

What can you do with 381,392 CPU cores? For Cineca, it means enabling computational scientists to expand a large part of the world’s body of knowledge from th Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

UC Berkeley Paper Heralds Rise of Serverless Computing in the Cloud – Do You Agree?

February 13, 2019

Almost exactly ten years to the day from publishing of their widely-read, seminal paper on cloud computing, UC Berkeley researchers have issued another ambitious examination of cloud computing - Cloud Programming Simplified: A Berkeley View on Serverless Computing. The new work heralds the rise of ‘serverless computing’ as the next dominant phase of cloud computing. Read more…

By John Russell

Iowa ‘Grows Its Own’ to Fill the HPC Workforce Pipeline

February 13, 2019

The global workforce that supports advanced computing, scientific software and high-speed research networks is relatively small when you stop to consider the magnitude of the transformative discoveries it empowers. Technical conferences provide a forum where specialists convene to learn about the latest innovations and schedule face-time with colleagues from other institutions. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek

Trump Signs Executive Order Launching U.S. AI Initiative

February 11, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) today launching a U.S Artificial Intelligence Initiative. The new initiative - Maintaining American L Read more…

By John Russell

Celebrating Women in Science: Meet Four Women Leading the Way in HPC

February 11, 2019

One only needs to look around at virtually any CS/tech conference to realize that women are underrepresented, and that holds true of HPC. SC hosts over 13,000 H Read more…

By AJ Lauer

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro Read more…

By Doug Black

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

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

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

Intel Reportedly in $6B Bid for Mellanox

January 30, 2019

The latest rumors and reports around an acquisition of Mellanox focus on Intel, which has reportedly offered a $6 billion bid for the high performance interconn Read more…

By Doug Black

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Looking for Light Reading? NSF-backed ‘Comic Books’ Tackle Quantum Computing

January 28, 2019

Still baffled by quantum computing? How about turning to comic books (graphic novels for the well-read among you) for some clarity and a little humor on QC. The 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

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

Deep500: ETH Researchers Introduce New Deep Learning Benchmark for HPC

February 5, 2019

ETH researchers have developed a new deep learning benchmarking environment – Deep500 – they say is “the first distributed and reproducible benchmarking s Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro Read more…

By Doug Black

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

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

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

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