Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Is cloud inevitable for HPC?

In 2009, I wrote this article for HPC Wire: "2009-2019: A Look Back on a Decade of Supercomputing", pretending to look back on supercomputing between 2009 and 2019 from the perspective of beyond 2020.

The article opens with the idea that owning your own supercomputer was a thing of the past:
"As we turn the decade into the 2020s, we take a nostalgic look back at the last ten years of supercomputing. It’s amazing to think how much has changed in that time. Many of our older readers will recall how things were before the official Planetary Supercomputing Facilities at Shanghai, Oak Ridge and Saclay were established. Strange as it may seem now, each country — in fact, each university or company — had its own supercomputer!"
I got this bit wrong:
"And then the critical step — businesses and researchers finally understood that their competitive asset was the capabilities of their modelling software and user expertise — not the hardware itself. Successful businesses rushed to establish a lead over their competitors by investing in their modelling capability — especially robustness (getting trustable predictions/analysis), scalability (being able to process much larger datasets than before) and performance (driving down time to solutions)."
Hardware still matters - in some cases - as a means of gaining a competitive advantage in performance or cost [We help advise if that is true for our HPC consulting customers, and how to ensure the operational and strategic advantage is measured and optimized].

And, of course, my predicted rush to invest in software and people hasn't quite happened yet.

Towards the end, I predicted three major computing providers, from which most people got their HPC needs:
"We have now left the housing and daily care of the hardware to the specialists. The volume of public and private demand has set the scene for strong HPC provision into the future. We have the three official global providers to ensure consumer choice, with its competitive benefits, but few enough providers to underpin their business cases for the most capable possible HPC infrastructure."
Whilst my predictions were a little off in timing, some could be argued to have come true e.g., the rise to the top of Chinese supercomputing, the increasing likelihood of using someone else's supercomputer rather than buying your own (even if we still call it cloud), etc.

With the ongoing debate around cloud vs in-house HPC (where I am desperately trying to inject some impartial debate to balance the relentless and brash cloud marketing), re-visiting this article made an interesting trip down memory lane for me. I hope you might enjoy it too.

As I recently posted on LinkedIn:
"Cloud will never be the right solution for everyone/every use case. Cloud is rightly the default now for corporate IT, hosted applications, etc. But, this cloud-for-everything is unfortunately, wrongly, extrapolated to specialist computing (e.g.,  high performance computing, HPC), where cloud won't be the default for a long time.
For many HPC users, cloud is becoming a viable path to HPC, and very soon perhaps even the default option for many use cases. But, cloud is not yet, and probably never will be, the right solution for everyone. There will always be those who can legitimately justify a specialized capability (e.g., a dedicated HPC facility) rather than a commodity solution (i.e., cloud, even "HPC cloud"). The reasons for this might include better performance, specific operational constraints, lower TCO, etc. that only specialized facilities can deliver. 
The trick is to get an unbiased view for your specific situation, and you should be aware that most of the commentators on cloud are trying to sell cloud solutions or related services, so are not giving you impartial advice!"
[We provide that impartial advice on cloud, measuring performance, TCO, and related topics to our HPC consulting customers]


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Deeply learning about HPC - ISC17 day 3 summary - Wednesday evening

For most of the HPC people gathered in Frankfurt for ISC17, Wednesday evening marks the end of the hard work, the start of the journey home for some, already home for others. A few hardy souls will hang on until Thursday for the workshops. So, as you relax with a drink in Frankfurt, trudge through airports on the way home, or catch up on the week's emails, here's my final daily summary of ISC17, as seen through the lens of twitter, private conversations, and the HPC media.

This follows my highlights blogs from Monday "Cutting through the ISC17 clutter"  (~20k views so far) and Tuesday "ISC17 information overload" (~4k views so far).

So what sticks out from the last day, and what sticks out from the week overall?

Deep Learning

Wednesday was touted by ISC as "deep learning day". If we follow the current convention (inaccurate but seemingly pervasive) of using deep learning, machine learning, AI (nobody actually spells out artificial intelligence), big data, data analytics, etc. as totally interchangeable terms (why let facts get in the way of good marketing?), then Wednesday was indeed deep learning day, judging by by tweet references to one or more of the above. However, I struggle to nail down exactly what I am supposed to have learnt about HPC and deep learning from today's content. Perhaps you had to be there in person (there is a reason why attending conferences is better than watching via twitter).

I think my main observations are:
  • DL/ML/AI/BigData/analytics/... is a real and growing part of the HPC world - both in terms of "traditional" HPC users looking at these topics, and new users from these backgrounds peering into the HPC community to seek performance advantages.
  • A huge proportion of the HPC community doesn't really know what DL/ML/... actually means in practice (which software, use case, workflow, skills, performance characteristics, ...).
  • It is hard to find the reality behind the marketing of DL/ML/... products, technologies, and "success stories" of the various vendors. But, hey, what's new? - I was driven to deal with this issue for GPUs and cloud in my recent webinar "Dissecting the myths of Cloud and GPUs for HPC".
  • Between all of the above, I still feel there is a huge opportunity being missed: for users in either community and for the technology/product providers. I don't have the answers though.


Barcelona (BSC) has joined other HPC centers (e.g., Bristol Isambard, Cambridge Peta5, ...) in buying a bit of everything to explore the technology diversity for future HPC systems: "New MareNostrum Supercomputer Reflects Processor Choices Confronting HPC Users".

Exascale is now a world-wide game: China, European countries, USA, Japan are all close enough to start talking about how they might get to exascale, rather than merely visions of wanting to get there.

People are on the agenda: growing the future HPC talent, e.g., the ISC STEM Student Day Day & Gala, the Student Cluster Competition, gender diversity (Women-in-HPC activities), and more.

Wrapping up

There are some parts of ISC that have been repeated over the years due to demand. Thomas Sterling's annual "HPC Achievement & Impact" keynote that traditionally closes ISC (presenting as I write this) is an excellent session and goes a long way towards justifying the technical program registration fee.

2017 sees the welcome return of Addison Snell's "Analyst Crossfire". With a great selection of questions, fast pace, and well chosen panel members, this is always a good event. Of course, I am biased towards the ISC11 Analyst Crossfire being the best one!

I'll join Addison's fun with my "one up, one down" for ISC17. Up is CSCS, not merely for Piz Daint knocking the USA out of the top 3 of the Top500, but for a sustained program of supercomputing over many years, culminating in this leadership position. Down is Intel - brings a decent CPU to market in Skylake but gets backlash for pricing, has to face uncertainty over the CORAL Aurora project, and in spite of a typically high profile presence at the show, a re-emerging rival AMD takes a good share of the twitter & press limelight with EPYC.

Until next time

That's all from me for ISC17. I'll be back with more blogs over the next few weeks, based on my recent conference talks (e.g., "Six Trends in HPC for Engineers" and "Measuring the Business Impact of HPC").

You can catch up with me in person at the SEG Annual Meeting, EAGE HPC Workshop (I'm presenting), the TACC-NAG Training Institute for Managers, and SC17 (I can reveal we will be delivering tutorials again, including a new one - more details soon!).

In the meantime, interact with me on twitter @hpcnotes, where I provide pointers to key HPC content, plus my comments and opinions on HPC matters (with a bit of F1 and travel geekery thrown in for fun).

Safe travels,

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

ISC17 information overload - Tuesday afternoon summary

I hope you've been enjoying a productive ISC17 if you are in Frankfurt, or if not have been able to keep up with the ISC17 news flow from afar.

My ISC17 highlights blog post from yesterday ("Cutting through the clutter of ISC17: Monday lunchtime summary") seems to have collected over 11,000 page-views so far. Since this hpcnotes blog normally only manages several hundred to a few thousand page views per post, I'm assuming a bot somewhere is inflating the stats. However, there are probably enough real readers to make me write another one. So here goes - my highlights of ISC17 news flow as of Tuesday mid-afternoon.

Monday, 19 June 2017

How to keep up with the HPC news from ISC17

Overwhelmed by the HPC information pouring out of ISC17? Twitter, press releases, media stories, exhibitors, presentations, etc.? How to keep up?


  • @ischpc - the official ISC stream
  • @HPC_Guru - the anonymous tweeting wonder that feeds the HPC community's appetite for news, and adds targeted comments
  • @hpcnotes (me) - a subset of @hpc_guru's stream, plus my own extra snippets and opinion
The above three will get you most of what you need (in my opinion!) but you can gain useful additonal information by more exploring who the above three interact with throughout ISC17.

If you are a glutton, then follow #ISC17.

I'll update the above list throughout ISC17 if other tweeters become key commentators, but you might also find this (mildly out of date) list of HPC twitter accounts handy.

HPC Notes

Of course, I would say the most essential method is reading my ISC17 summary blogs!


If you prefer commentary and press releases from the main HPC media then here are the mian options:

  • - your first port of call for the main announcements and editor Michael Feldman's analysis
  • The Next Platform - in depth analysis of the stories behind the press releases from Nicole Hemsoth and Timothy Prickett-Morgan
  • InsideHPC - a selection of announcements, plus audio/video news and interviews from the show floor, by Rich Brueckner
  • HPC Wire - the most comprehensive list of HPC press releases, with other articles by Tiffany Trader and Doug Black
Happy reading!

Cutting through the clutter of ISC17: Monday lunchtime summary

ISC, the HPC community's 2nd biggest annual gathering, in fully underway in Frankfurt now. ISC week is characterized by a vibrant twitter flood (#ISC17), topped up with a deluge of press releases (a small subset of which are actually news), plus a plethora of news and analysis pieces in the HPC media. And, of course, anyone physically present at ISC, has presentations, meetings, and exhibitors further demanding their attention.

I go to ISC almost every year. It is a valuable use of time for anyone in the HPC community or who uses, or has an interest in, HPC even if they don't see themselves as part of the HPC community. However, I have decided not to attend ISC this year, due to other commitments. However, I will keep an eye on the "news" throughout the week and post a handful of summary blogs (like this one), which might be a useful catch-up on "news" so far, whether you are attending ISC or watching from afar.