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End users need to design exascale computers


t’s not size that counts but what you do with your supercomputer, delegates to the GPU Technology Conference in San Jose were told

on 16 May.

End user scientists and engineers need to get involved from the outset in the design of the next generation of machines – expected to be capable of delivering performance in the exaflop range by the end of this decade – if they want them to produce useful scientific and engineering results. Historically, too much emphasis has been put on supercomputer hardware and not enough attention paid to the application software that would run on the machines capable of producing the results that scientists and engineers want. So, during a session on ‘Exascaling your apps’, Steve Scott, the chief technology officer of Nvidia,

which organised the conference, warned that if exascale machines were to have a broad impact: ‘We need a wake-up call.’ He did not think that system software would be an issue in the exascale domain, but added: ‘I’m worried about application software.’ At present, no-one quite knows what

the hardware will be for a successful exascale machine and this opens up an unprecedented opportunity for end users to get involved in ‘co-design’, Satoshi Matsuoka of the Tokyo Institute of Technology told the session. ‘Co-design will be the big key,’ he commented. Because the architectures of the processors and the systems for exascale computing are not yet fixed, he said, co-design is needed to reflect the needs of the end user applications in the architectures themselves, right from the outset.

He pointed out that, even at the petaflop level, ‘It has been a challenge to run efficient applications. Scaling up has been a challenge because of the transition to many core and heterogeneous architectures.’ Steve Scott endorsed the point, saying that although today’s applications will run on a future exaflop machine: ‘Will they run well? No!’ The US Department of Energy

has already set up three co-design initiatives, according to Jeff Vetter of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They will be focusing on the areas of combustion, materials science and nuclear power. ‘In the past, the applications teams have been tossed new architectures and told to get on with it,’ he said. Now, in contrast, designers have to tell the users early on what the possibilities might be.

Computer games help HPC T

he latest processor from Nvidia will lead ‘the democratisation of computing happening in front of us,’

according to Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive of the company. He unveiled the new chip, known as ‘Kepler’, to an audience of nearly 3,000 scientists and engineers at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, California, on 15 May. It was, he said, more than three times as energy efficient as its predecessor. Nvidia specialises in graphics

processing units, as one of the major suppliers of computer graphics cards to PCs, but the technology is now widely used as an accelerator in high-performance computers. Kepler was, he said, the most energy-efficient GPU ever built and he expected

it to advance high-performance computing, computer graphics and cloud computing. Of HPC, he said: ‘We know that ultimate performance is limited by energy efficiency and at the chip architecture level we have had to design for energy efficiency and this is a huge step forward.’

Among the applications in HPC that he demonstrated was a massive simulation of the collision between our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and the nearby Andromeda galaxy – an event expected some three billion years or so into the future. The simulation involved a many-body problem of millions of gravitationally interacting stars – a highly intensive computational problem. But, according to Sumit Gupta, head

of Nvidia’s Tesla high-performance computing business, supercomputing


will be the beneficiary of the other applications for the Kepler chip – in gaming, virtualisation and cloud computing. It is because Nvidia has such a strong presence in these high-volume consumer markets that it is able to produce its processors so cheaply. And it is this aspect, according to Gupta, that is leading to the ‘democratisation of high-performance computing’ proclaimed by Huang. Nvidia is launching two versions of

the processor: one is available almost immediately that will have single precision and will be suitable for some scientific applications such as seismic profiling. The other, known as K20, will have double precision and enhanced queuing and parallelism, but it will not be available until the last quarter of this year.


Bull announces €28 million joint venture with a French investment company, aimed at accelerating the adoption of HPC ARCHIE supercomputer boosts research at Scottish universities Astron and IBM have embarked on a five-year, €32.9 million collaboration to research fast and low-power exascale computer systems Cray sells interconnect hardware development program and related intellectual property to Intel

University of Southampton awarded more than £2.2 million of funding to promote HPC

Bright Computing announces strategic partnership with Colfax International

For regular news updates, please visit

Diary Dates 17-21 June

ISC’12 – The HPC Event Hamburg, Germany

24-28 June

PRACE EU-US Summer School Dublin, Ireland

25-29 June

Advanced Research Workshop on HPC, Grids and Clouds Cetraro, Italy

17-20 July

10th International Meeting on High-Performance Computing for Computational Science (VECPAR 2012) Kobe, Japan

l To ensure your event is listed, please send details to

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