Q&A: Getting excited about supercomputing

We speak with an Intel supercomputing specialist about how HPC can help businesses and where the market is going.

You're mentioning two developments here. One is from an OEM and vendor side. Certainly as this market grows there is a natural interest of people who have a stake in the IT market to say this looks like an interesting market.' That's actually a proof point that this is not a niche market. It's a mainstream market today.

From a technology perspective there is a fairly large number of companies developing underlying technologies on the CPU side, networking all the underlying technology you need.

The other development you mentioned was Google. They are interested in it from a different perspective. They are interested in it from a service perspective, which actually couples itself fairly well with the requirement of the market.

Many scientific researchers... have cycles in their development and there are peaks in that cycle, where they say they could use more capacity, but actually don't have it.

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How can you satisfy those peaks? Should I really buy my own cluster with their given difficulties? Can I go to a cloud provider, which just provides me with the cycles when I need them? Then I don't need a workstation and transfer the data out to the cloud and get the result back.

It's a bit idealistic, but that's the usage model. That obviously attracts people like Amazon and Google, who have large server farms. Obviously having the underlying model of having cloud infrastructure as an infrastructure for HPC is in everybody's mouth these days and there are people developing solutions on that already.

We touched briefly on the HPC Wales project. What kinds of economic benefits can programmes like that bring to the UK?

Well they can bring benefit on the top end where people use the whole machine as a capability machine where a company has really advanced research in a way that you actually can do things that you weren't able to do before.

You really have those big machines in Europe that enable users to run their high end applications.

That's one thing, the other is more the capacity idea, where you actually have larger installations that are basically chopped into parts and used in a somewhat cloud fashion.

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You have both usage models and both help the economy because you serve the smaller needs and you also help the high end to get more sophisticated, which I think is also a key competitive thing for any kind of economy. You really have the capability to do really cutting edge research and you really have the capacity for the bright in mind.

These days, HPC is really a key tool for any kind of science and engineering and even entertainment.

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