Analyst Review: Six Recent IBM Innovations in High-Performance Computing

By Andy Morris, IBM Cognitive Infrastructure

October 22, 2019

[Attend the IBM HPC, AI and LSF User Group Meeting at SC19 in Denver on November 19!]

Enterprise and cloud analyst Patrick Moorhead outlined recent IBM successes in an article on He sees HPC as three distinct markets, rather than just one:

  1. Large federal government-funded, semi-custom “funny cars” that occupy the top 5-10 in the TOP500. This is where CORAL implementations sit.
  2. Smaller, government-funded installations with mostly off the shelf components
  3. Enterprise systems used by financial and energy verticals which don’t show up on TOP500.

He sees recent IBM successes focused on #2 and #3, highlighted by the following seven projects:

The Weather Company GRAF

IBM, in conjunction with its subsidiary The Weather Company, announced the IBM Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System—GRAF for short. Utilizing IBM POWER9-based supercomputers, GRAF promises to deliver the world’s first hourly-updating commercial weather system capable of predicting weather events down to small local thunderstorms. IBM says GRAF will deliver around a 200% improvement in forecasting resolution across the globe—from an average resolution of 12 km down to 3 km. A GRAF innovation is that it will incorporate previously untapped sensor data from aircraft into its models, as well as data from amateur weather stations. You can find more information here.

Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC)

IBM has a longstanding partnership with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and is currently involved in a number of ongoing HPC research projects together. These include:

  • an exploration of the use of high-performance in-memory databases for the Blue Gene Active Storage architecture (which I mentioned earlier)
  • an exploration in applying software-defined environments (SDE) to HPC workloads
  • work on cognitive deep learning with HPC tools (particularly as it relates to image processing)
  • adaptive resource management for IBM Power architectures

Eni (Global energy company)

Another interesting partnership of IBM’s is with Eni, a global energy company. Together, the companies are collaborating on an AI platform to help drive Eni’s decision-making during the first stages of hydrocarbon exploration. Hydrocarbon exploration is a complicated endeavor that takes into account a large amount of geological, geochemical, and physical data in order to decide, essentially, where there are likely to be hydrocarbons and where to drill and explore further. AI aids in the contextualization and presentation of this information. IBM calls the process of mining all of this preexisting data for insights “cognitive discovery.” You can read more about this here.

Total (Global energy company)

IBM recently announced the construction of a new IBM POWER9-based supercomputer called Pangea III for the global energy company Total. IBM touts Pangea III as “the world’s most powerful commercial computer,” with 25 petaflops of compute power and 50 petabytes of storage capacity. The supercomputer is purportedly the #11 system in the Top500. Total says it will put Pangea III to use on:

  • higher resolution seismic imaging for exploration and development
  • the generation of predictive production models
  • asset valuation and selectivity

You can read more about this here.

U.S. Army

Datacenter Dynamics reported in August that the US Army bought a $12M “supercomputer” to be used by multiple agencies inside the Department of Defense.2 The most interesting thing about this implementation is that it’s inside a pod with chilled water that can be moved anywhere a C-130 could take it. The 6-petaflop machine reportedly uses 148 nodes, each with a dual-socket IBM POWER9 processor. The Department of Defense doesn’t like to discuss workloads or applications, but you can bet given the NVIDIA V100 and T4s, it’s a machine learning application.

Quantum HPC future

Recent IBM POWER designs included support for CAPI, PCIe Gen4, and NVLink, GPU and FPGA acceleration when shared memory wasn’t even a thing. Now, GPU accelerated computing is the rage and FPGAs are gaining steam. IBM saw the future, bet on it, and was right, hence the success in those accelerated applications.

Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Paul Smith-Goodson outlined where he sees quantum computing making huge impacts3, and which Moorhead considers to be the next generation of HPC. These center around:

  • New chemicals, drugs, and materials can be modeled, modified, and designed with custom properties to develop new pharmaceutical, commercial, and business products.
  • Today we use supercomputers for a variety of optimization problems, such as Monte Carlo simulations, energy applications, and bond prices. Quantum computers will allow for more robust simulations and on a much larger scale to provide more in-depth insight, higher efficiency, and better forecasting.
  • Artificial intelligence might become orders of magnitude smarter than it is today. CORAL was very clear that its direction isn’t a FLOPS monster, but FLOPs plus AI.

Moorhead believes IBM is one of the leaders or the leader in quantum computing and in what Moor Insights & Strategy considers a part of the future of HPC.

[Learn about IBM quantum innovations for business, developers, researches and educators.]






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