Intel in HPC – The Road Ahead Looks Broad and Fast
Building an On-Ramp for the "Missing Middle"
By Dr. Stephen Wheat
Intel High Performance Business Unit
High performance computing (HPC) has come a long way in the last 15 years, not only in capability, but also in value and market-breadth. Intel engineered a key turning point in 1997 with the launch of ASCI Red, the world’s first supercomputer capable of sustaining a teraflop of performance. ASCI Red showed that a computing system based on high-volume, industry-standard processors could deliver record-setting performance in the rarified world of HPC. That system held the number one position on the TOP500 list for three years.
Fast forward to today.
Intel architecture now accounts for roughly 80 percent of HPC market share¹ and more than 77 percent of the world’s 500 largest supercomputers². Meanwhile, capability versus cost has skyrocketed. ASCI Red contained more than 10,000 processors and consumed about 800 KW of power. Today, 24 Intel® Xeon® processors can deliver that same teraflop of sustained performance, while consuming only about 3.5 KW of power.
None of this progress could have occurred without the technical innovation delivered by the many vendors who support HPC on Intel architecture. Intel drives processor development at the pace of Moore’s Law and delivers optimized compilers and other tools to simplify integration. Independent hardware vendors (IHVs) and independent software vendors (ISVs) have added complementary advances for years at every layer of the HPC solution stack, from server platforms and interconnect fabrics to cluster middleware and HPC applications. As a result, digital simulation methodologies have become available at lower and lower pricepoints.
Intel Cluster Ready was established to foster this collaborative environment by establishing a standards-based cluster architecture that could support a broad range of applications. Clusters can now be designed and built through the horizontal integration of standard hardware and software building blocks, without the resource-intensive vertical integration that has traditionally been required for every new cluster.
This new model has helped to accelerate the pace of innovation yet again, while simultaneously simplifying cluster design, deployment, management, and use. The range of cluster solutions has expanded and the purchasing process has become easier. Helping a customer buy and deploy a cluster used to be a high-touch endeavor requiring a complex RFP and a long sales and development cycle. Today, new clusters are increasingly configured and purchased over the Internet and most Intel Cluster Ready systems are delivered ready for use, or very close to it.
So where do we go from here?
The potential demand for digital simulation remains enormous and largely untapped. In the US alone there are an estimated 150,000 small and mid-size manufacturers that could benefit substantially from augmenting or replacing physical prototyping with simulation methods. The Ohio Supercomputing Center coined a term to refer to this untapped market: the “missing middle.” Most of these businesses lack the internal expertise to implement or manage a cluster. Many rely on workstations or smaller systems for design, engineering, and analysis, and may not realize that digital modeling and simulation could help them improve quality, speed time-to-market, and cut costs.
Intel Cluster Ready provides an on-ramp to HPC for these businesses, and widening that on-ramp has the potential to transform the HPC marketplace once again. It will require making cluster computing even simpler and more cost-effective, while reaching out to engage a new generation of potential users. Deploying and using digital simulation systems will need to be a natural, non-disruptive step forward for designers, engineers, content creators, analysts, and other professionals who lack specialized knowledge in cluster computing, code development, and the mathematics of simulation and analysis.
There is much work still to be done to reach this next level of simplicity, but the potential is enormous. For HPC vendors, it can open new markets and new growth opportunities by pushing digital simulation into the mainstream. For small and medium sized businesses, it can deliver a source of innovation that will make them faster, leaner, more agile, and more competitive. For small research teams, it can open new pathways to developing and testing theories that will save lives and change the way we view and interact with the world.
Perhaps what’s most encouraging is the scale of the benefits that could be realized by accelerating processes, workflows, and innovation for hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized organizations. To quote Rick Jarman, President and CEO of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, “It will change everything. The potential is huge. This is amounting to the kind of transformation not seen since the assembly line.”³
Intel is working on many fronts to fuel this next transition in digital simulation. Intel Cluster Ready has been a cornerstone of these efforts. The work goes on, faster than ever, to simplify cluster solutions and simulation applications, tap new markets, and extend simulation into the cloud and beyond. With your continued support, the next step in democratizing digital simulation innovation could be the most transformative step so far.
¹ Source: IDC
² Source: TOP500 list published June, 2011.
³ Source: “NCMS Creates National Network to Promote Advanced Digital Manufacturing,” an article from Manufacturing & Technology News reprinted with permission by the Alliance for High Performance Computing, October 19, 2010.
Dr. Stephen Wheat is the Senior Director of Intel's High Performance Computing Business Unit, where he is responsible for the World-Wide HPC Business Operations. Dr. Wheat has been involved in HPC for more than 30 years, having started out in the oil patch. He is also the current chair of the Alliance for High Performance Digital Manufacturing (AHPDM, www.digitalmanufacturing.org). Dr. Wheat has been with Intel since 1995.