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Power-efficiency, GPUs push exascale computing

Posted: 08 Nov 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:supercomputing? exascale? GPU? cloud computing?

The pursuit for ground-breaking supercomputing technologies has never slowed down. Moving past the petascale, scientists and engineers are looking into exascale computing. However, issues such as data security, cost and power efficiency seem to be hampering the progress.

According to Carl Claunch, VP and analyst at Gartner Research, the supercomputing space is a "continually moving target." Governments, corporations and the academic world continued to display an ever increasing appetite for system speed, stated Claunch. Getting to exascale computing and quintillion calculations per second is therefore no longer science fiction, but a concrete goalone the industry hopes to achieve by 2018, he added.

Indeed, with supercomputers and high-performance computing (HPC) becoming ever more mainstream and relevant across a plethora of industries from nuclear physics to climate modeling to banking, the questions of efficiency, density and cost are becoming particularly pertinent. "Most supercomputer buyers are being constrained more by budget than by anything else," noted Claunch that despite the great strides in computer modeling and the great elasticity in HPC, the drive for faster, smaller, cheaper systems remains strong.

Moore's Law has paid off in terms of transistor density improvements, but more work needs to be done in terms of power per watt, especially as more power translates into more FLOPS of compute speed. Power budgets for supercomputers are rising, but ultimately a machine needs to be affordable enough to run in order to be effective, reckoned Claunch.

The U.S. government, for instance, has plowed increasing amounts of money into the space, with a reported $126 million set aside for exascale computing for 2012 alone, to help ward off competition for supercomputer supremacy. China and Japan in particular have been making aggressive moves in the space.


The race for exascale computing is hampered by power-efficiency and GPU issues.

"Supercomputing is an area we want to maintain U.S. leadership in, it's important we stay in front," said Margaret Williams, Cray's SVP of HPC Systems. Williams said Cray is frequently in contact with government officials and was lobbying hard for the U.S. Department of Energy to spend more money in the supercomputing space. "There's a lot of investment needed," she emphasized.

Power, floor space constraints
Despite the money being invested in HPC, however, many potential supercomputer clients are still being constrained by power restrictions or even floor space limitations, said Claunch. He added that he believed tremendous benefits could be gained through increased efficiency.

"We are really taking the power efficiency challenge very seriously," said Supermicro's Clegg. "Power supplies are being looked at more carefully," he added, noting that Supermicro aims to get the majority of its power to a platinum level of efficiency, or some 94 percent plus. "Power and cooling is the biggest problem," he underlined, noting that it was becoming increasingly difficult to achieve a favorable cost-to-benefit ratio with cooling costs increasing almost exponentially as performance increased. "There's not enough cheap power to get us past the exascale level unless we make some serious architectural changes."

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