High-performance computing (HPC), once the domain of the upper reaches of science
and engineering, has grown dramatically more affordable in recent years. Not
only is HPC more affordable, it is also simpler, with few special support and
training requirements while offering capabilities heretofore available to only
a small number of organizations.
course, the definition of HPC is a moving target. The giant pioneer "electronic
brains" of the 1950s and 1960s, now long-since eclipsed by the average desktop,
were the HPC machines of their day. More
recently HPC has often been understood to refer to powerful clusters, well
suited to tackling large and complex problems. Today, high-performance workgroup
computing clusters are now more available and affordable than ever and require
less special support and training. The underlying
technology is rarely proprietary and instead leverages processors from leading
manufacturers such as Intel and AMD. And
on the software side, proprietary operating systems are also in eclipse, with
Unix, Linux and Windows-based machines dominating.
Law and growing skills in building and designing clusters have been helping
to make HPC ever-more affordable. Nowadays, in terms of compute density and
power efficiency, HPC offers more performance in a given "footprint" with less
power requirements than ever before. Furthermore, high-performance workgroup
computing clusters now require less special support and training, making them
an easy way to augment a traditional workstation environment to provide users
greatly improved computational performance.
recently released study from IDC and the Council on Competitiveness
underscores this trend. Titled "Reflect:
Council on Competitiveness and USC-ISI In-Depth Study of Technical Computing
End Users and HPC," the study found 48 percent of the surveyed firms
(in the aerospace, automotive, government, energy, chemical, heavy
manufacturing, medical and electronics industries) believed HPC could
dramatically boost their competitiveness. Furthermore, most of these companies
acknowledged having important problems they cannot solve with their current
is a game-changing technology and earlier Council studies confirm it is
essential to the business survival of the companies that have embraced
it," says Council on Competitiveness Vice President Suzy Tichenor, who
heads the organization's High Performance Computing Initiative.
Council's High Performance Computing Initiative aims to encourage wider usage
of HPC across the private sector. They also supported creation of several HPC
case studies, one of which, "Customized
Catalysts to Improve Crude Oil Yields: Getting More Bang from Each Barrel,"
sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Science, documented the
economic benefits of HPC-driven innovation.
when HPC and simulation are put to work, the results boil down to faster time
to results in computational modeling, the ability to do more iterations on
engineering and scientific simulations and the ability to do much higher
quality and higher accuracy modeling and simulation. In short, with affordable HPC
readily available, simulation products from vendors like Presagis and Ansys are
becoming part of mainstream engineering activity and are changing business.
example, Keith Sansalone, advanced research engineer at Cooper Tire &
Rubber in Findlay, Ohio, says the expanded application of HPC in recent years
at his company has been a huge boost in the highly competitive tire
market. The installation of two
entry-level HPC machines about four years ago allowed tire tread designs to be
put through practical simulations for the first time. "Now we are looking at the possibility of
adding a cluster of Linux-based machines to greatly expand the way we use
simulation technology," he says.
within many vertical industries, the development of affordable HPC promises to 'rewrite the rules' on engineering productivity and in terms of the quality and
nature of design solutions that can be achieved. In short, HPC is here and now
and organizations ignoring its potential do so at their peril. Just as the
slide rule was long-ago superseded by the scientific calculator and specialized
engineering programs, HPC is about to empower a new generation of engineering
leadership for the companies that embrace its potential.
one expert says, "It boils down to competitiveness. The fundamental process of engineer hasn't
changed but the ability to perform virtual product development gives companies
the chance to get to market faster with better, more reliable product - and
products that better meet the needs of customers."