Monday, 29 August 2011

Supercomputers and other large science facilities

In my recent HPCwire feature, I wrote that I occasionally say, glibly and deliberately provocatively, that if the scientific community can justify (to funders and to the public) billions of dollars, large power consumptions, lots of staff etc for domain specific major scientific intrusments like LHC, Hubble, NIF, etc, then how come we can’t make a case for a facility needing comparable resources but can do wonders for a whole range of science problems and industrial applications?

There is a partial answer to that ...

Friday, 19 August 2011

What happened to High Productivity Computing?

How to make HPC more effective? Value for money and high impact strategic research facilities like HPC are often difficult to match. Not so long ago, this concern meant that the familiar HPC acronym was hijacked to mean "High Productivity Computing", to emphasize that it is not only the raw compute performance at your disposal that counts but, more importantly, how well you are able to make use of that performance. In other words: how productive is it?

What is this HPC thing?

[Originally posted on The NAG Blog]

I’m sure something like this is familiar to many readers of this blog. The focus here is HPC, but there is a similar story for mathematicians, numerical software engineeers, etc.

You've just met an old acquaintance. Or a family member is curious. Or at social events (when social means talking to real people not twitter/facebook). We see that question coming. We panic. Then the family/friend/stranger, asks it. We freeze. How to reply? Can I get a meaningful, ideally interesting, answer out before they get bored? What if I fail to get the message across correctly? Oops, this pause before answering has gone on too long. Now they are looking at me strangely. They are thinking the answer is embarrassing or weird. This is not a good start.

The question? “What do you do then?” Followed by: “Oh! So what exactly is supercomputing then?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Big Data and Supercomputing for Science

It is interesting to note the increasing attention “big data” seems to be getting from the supercomputing community.

Data explosion

We talk about the challenges of the exponential increase in data, or even an “explosion of data”. This is caused by our ever-growing ability to generate data. More powerful computational resources deliver finer resolutions, wider parameter studies, etc. The emergence of individual scale HPC (GPU etc.) that is both cost-viable and effort-viable gives increased data creation capability to the many scientists not using high end supercomputers. And instrumental sources continue to improve in resolution and speed.

So, we are collecting more data than we have before. We are also increasing our use of multiple data sources – fusion from various sensors and computer models to form predictions or study scientific phenomena.

It is also common to questions such as: are we drowning in volume of data? Is this growth in data overwhelming our ability to extract useful information or insight? Is the potential value of the increased data lost by our inability to manage and comprehend it? Does having more data mean more information – or less due to analysis overload? Do the diversity of formats, quality, and sources further hinder data use?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Summer season big changes - football or supercomputing?

The world of supercomputing has gone mad.

So it seems as I catch up on the news around the HPC community after a week's vacation. Just today the news of IBM walking away from half a decade's work on Blue Waters and the story of an unknown organisation [now revealed to be NVidia] tempting Steve Scott to leave his Cray CTO role have been huge news but thinking back over the summer months there has been more.

The immediate comparison to me is that of the European football summer season (soccer for my American readers). Key players are signed by new clubs, managers leave for pastures new (or are pushed), and ownership takeover bids succeed or fail. It feeds a few months of media speculation, social gossip, with occasional breaking news (i.e. actual facts) and several major moves (mostly big surprises, but some pre-hyped for long before). But clubs emerge from the summer with new teams, new ambitions, and new odds of achieving success.

The world of HPC has such a summer I think.