How the cloud and large compute are remaking HPC

Roughly 25 years in the past, a number of open supply applied sciences mixed to make a strong, business Web that was lastly able to do enterprise and take your cash. Dubbed the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache HTTP Server, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python), this open supply mixture turned the usual growth stack for a era of builders.

Don’t look now, however we could be on the cusp of one other LAMP stack second.

This time, nonetheless, the main target isn’t on constructing a brand new, on-line strategy to peddle pet food. As an alternative, a brand new know-how renaissance is underway to deal with algorithmically complicated, large-scale workloads that devour huge portions of compute sources. Assume vaccinations for COVID-19, constructing new supersonic jets, or driving autonomous automobiles. The science and engineering world is delivery sooner and delivering newer improvements at a dizzying tempo by no means witnessed earlier than.

How? Cloud. However not simply cloud.

The daybreak of ‘huge compute’ or ‘deep tech’

Cloud is maybe too facile an outline for what is occurring. We lack a intelligent shorthand for this transformation, like a LAMP stack for the Web. One thing has all of a sudden freed PhD varieties to innovate on computing engines of immense complexity to energy algorithmically pushed workloads which might be altering our lives in a lot deeper methods than an early Friendster or Pets.com promised to ship.

“Excessive-performance computing” (HPC) is the most typical tag related to these workloads. However that was earlier than public clouds turned viable platforms for these new functions. Scan the Top500 listing of the world’s quickest supercomputers and also you’ll see a rising quantity primarily based on public clouds. This isn’t a coincidence: On-premises supercomputers and big Linux clusters have been round for many years (previous the business Web), however this new development—typically dubbed “huge compute” or “deep tech”—relies upon closely on cloud.

As consulting agency BCG puts it, “The increasing power and falling cost of computing and the rise of technology platforms are the most important contributors. Cloud computing is steadily improving performance and expanding breadth of use.”

But this new “stack” isn’t just about cloud. Instead, it depends on three megatrends in technology: rapidly increasing breadth and depth of simulation software, specialized hardware, and cloud. These are the technology building blocks that every fast-moving research and science team is leveraging today and why hundreds of startups have emerged to shake up long-moribund industries that had consolidated a decade or more ago.

Helping engineers move faster

Just like the LAMP stack magical moment, today’s big compute/deep tech moment is all about enabling engineering productivity. Cloud is critical to this, though it’s not sufficient on its own.

Take aerospace, for example. An aerospace engineer would traditionally depend on an on-premises HPC cluster to simulate all the necessary variables related to liftoff and landing to design a new supersonic jet. Startup aerospace companies, by contrast, went straight to the cloud, with elastic infrastructure that has enabled them to model and simulate applications without queuing up behind colleagues for highly specialized HPC hardware. Less time building and maintaining hardware. More time experimenting and engineering. That’s the beauty of the big compute cloud approach.

Couple that with a diverse array of simulation software that enables new innovations to be modeled before complex physical things are actually built and prototyped. Specialized hardware, as Moore’s Law runs out of gas, power these algorithmically complicated simulations. And the cloud jail-breaks all of this from on-premises supercomputers and clusters, making it an order of magnitude easier to create and run models, iterate and improve, and run them again before moving to physical prototypes. (To be clear, much of this big compute/deep tech is about building physical things, not software.)

What’s tricky about this domain is the custom hardware and software configurations that are required to make them run and the sophisticated workflows required to optimize their performance. These types of algorithmically intensive workloads require increasingly specialized GPU and other newer chip architectures. Companies that are paying expensive PhDs to design the next great turbine or jet propulsion secret sauce don’t want to bog them down by forcing them to learn how to stand up machines with simulation software and hardware combinations.

“Fifteen years ago, any company in this HPC domain differentiated itself based on how well it ran its hardware on-premises, and basically placed a bet that Moore’s Law would continue to deliver consistently better performance on x86 architectures year over year,” said Joris Poort, CEO at Rescale, in an interview. “Today what matters most is speed and flexibility—making sure that your PhDs are using the best simulation software for their work, freeing them from becoming specialists in specialized big compute infrastructure so they can ship new innovations faster.”

Specialized supercomputers

Will every company eventually use simulation and specialized hardware in the cloud? Probably not. Today this is the domain of rockets, propulsion, computational biology, transportation systems, and the upper 1% of the world’s hardest computational challenges. But while big compute is used to crack the geekiest of problems today, we will most certainly see a new wave of Netflixes that topple the Blockbusters of the world using this LAMP stack combination of cloud, simulation software, and specialized hardware.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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