Thursday, 20 December 2012

A review of 2012 in supercomputing - Part 2

This is Part 2 of my review of the year 2012 in supercomputing and related matters.

In Part 1 of the review I re-visited the predictions I made at the start of 2012 and considered how they became real or not over the course of the year. This included cloud computing, Big Data (mandatory capitalization!), GPU, MIC, and ARM - and software innovation. You can find Part 1 here:

Part 2 of the review looks at the themes and events that emerged during the year. As in Part 1, this is all thoroughly biased, of course, towards things that interested me throughout the year.

The themes that stick out in my mind from HPC/supercomputing in 2012 are:
  • The exascale race stalls
  • Petaflops become "ordinary"
  • HPC seeks to engage a broader user community
  • Assault on the Top500

The exascale race stalls

The global race towards exascale supercomputing has been a feature of the last few years. I chipped in myself at the start of 2012 with a debate on the "co-design" mantra.

Confidently tracking the Top500 trend lines, the HPC community had pinned 2018 as the inevitable arrival date of the first supercomputer with a peak performance in excess of 1 exaflops. [Note the limiting definition of the target - loosely coupled computing complexes with aggregate capacity greater than exascale will probably turn up before the HPC machines - and peak performance in FLOPS is the metric here - not application performance or any assumptions of balanced systems.]

Some more cautious folk hedged a delay into their arrival dates and talked about 2020. However, it became apparent throughout 2012 that the US government did not have the appetite (or political support) to commit to being the first to deploy an exascale supercomputer. Other regions of the world have - like the USA government - stated their ambitions to be among the leaders in exascale computing. But no government has yet stood up and committed to a timetable nor to being the first to get there. Critically, neither has anyone committed the required R&D funding needed now to develop the technologies [hardware and software] that will make exascale supercomputing viable.

The consensus at the end of 2012 seems to be towards a date of 2022 for the first exascale supercomputer - and there is no real consensus on which country will win the race to have the first exascale computer.

Perhaps we need to re-visit our communication of the benefits of more powerful supercomputers to the wider economy and society (what is the point of supercomputers?). Communicating the value to society and describing the long term investment requirements is always a fundamental need of any specialist technology but it becomes crucially essential during the testing fiscal conditions (and thus political pressures) that governments face right now.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A review of 2012 in supercomputing - Part 1

It's that time of year when doing a review of the last twelve months seems like a good idea for a blog topic. (To be followed soon after by a blog of predictions for the next year.)
So, here goes - my review of the year 2012 in supercomputing and related matters. Thoroughly biased, of course, towards things that interested me throughout the year.

Predictions for 2012

Towards the end of 2011 and in early 2012 I made various predictions about HPC in 2012. Here are the ones I can find or recall:
  • The use of "cloud computing" as the preferred marketing buzzword used for large swathes of the HPC product space would come to an end.
  • There would be an onslaught of "Big Data" (note the compulsory capital letters) as the marketing buzzword of choice for 2012 - to be applied to as many HPC products as possible - even if only a tenuous relevance (just like cloud computing before it - and green computing before that - and so on ...)
  • There would be a vigorous ongoing debate over the relative merits and likely success of GPUs (especially from NVidia) vs. Intel's MIC (now called Xeon Phi).
  • ARM would become a common part of the architecture debate alongside x86 and accelerators.
  • There would be a growth in the recognition that software and people matter just as much as the hardware.