SC’10 in Review

We’ve just arrived back from another year at the Supercomputing conference where Platform had a terrific week, and we heard all the industry scuttlebutt about a number of developments that will be affecting everyone over the next year. Over the next few blog entries, I’ve taken the liberty of writing up a short review of some of the events, rumors, and observations that we at Platform found to be the most interesting at the show in 2010.

One of the ceremonies that makes every supercomputing conference is the unveiling of the TOP500 list. with conference attendees always taking a keen interest in the newest systems rounding out the fastest 10 supercomputers on the planet. This year’s Supercomputing 2010 conference was different in a few ways, namely because China, which had never taken the top spot in the TOP500 honor roll before, took both third place and the coveted king of the hill spot with its “Tianhe-1A.” computer. This top contender was built using a completely hybrid architecture, meaning it contains Intel and AMD processors, as well as GPUs from Nvidia and even a Chinese-designed and made processor coming from the the system.

Perhaps Tianhe-1A differs from its recent “purpose-built” progenitors (Blue-Gene L by IBM, the “earth” simulator by NEC, to name just a few) because it’s end goal is to be in service to Chinese research facilities and private industry both of which will purchase time on the system to run their most challenging simulations to date. (Maybe the West should take notice of this cooperative approach and consider it for their next bid for the top spot.)

On the downside on the show floor was the implication that Intel has almost officially put the Itanium processor out to pasture. No matter what some may say, it’s difficult to argue that, for many HPC applications, the Itanium was a quantum leap ahead of it’s time. Had Intel continued to invest their tsunami of R&D funding in the Itanium there is little doubt it would have continued on a path to ever higher levels of greatness. But, alas, even though a good idea before it’s time is still a good idea, it’s not always a successful one. (I’m sure Steve Jobs would agree!) So, the IA64 platform didn’t even make the grade to be mentioned or displayed in Intel’s booth, and HP, the last OEM to be shipping the processors, has relegated them to their non-HPC targeted “integrity” lineup.

There was also another abandonment story on the lips of many attendees. Oracle seems to be walking away from the HPC customers and market that Sun flirted with for many years. Though present at the show, their name didn’t even make it to the published list of vendors. In the workload management turf war, rumors of Oracle’s decision has the sharks at Altair, Adaptive Computing, and Platform Computing circling in anticipation of several companies jumping off the SGE ship.

Finally, Microsoft continues to invest heavily in what for them must be a very small niche market. They had the largest booth of the entire show, and were sponsors for several events throughout the week. Their investment in HPC seems to be gaining them both mindshare and market share, as they are no longer seen as a joke by the HPC community. Still, their numbers remain in the single digits in terms of production clusters that actually run jobs using their OS.

Overall, it was a very lively and well-attended conference with many HPC consumers renewing their interest after the last two years of economic hardship and belt-tightening. We hope the trend will continue and the 2011 show in Seattle will be standing room only!


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