Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Inc., in a speech at the SC08 Conference in Austin, Texas, today highlighted the democratization of supercomputing thanks to the use of standards and off-the-shelf parts. That democratization, he noted, blurs the line between high-performance computing and corporate computing, which powers services such as Facebook and Microsoft’s cloud computing service (both of which are built on Dell hardware, of course).
It also means high-performance computers will be found everywhere — even on your desktop. In his speech Dell gave a boost to Nvidia and its use of GPUs in supercomputers by announcing that Dell would add 1 teraflop to its personal HPC workstations through a Nvidia Telsa card. The idea of a supercomputer on your desktop is a big theme at the show this year, with vendors ranging from Cray to SiCortex highlighting their high-performance workstations, and vendors such as Microsoft pushing new HPC software.
Moving far beyond the desktop, Dell also announced the creation of a 96-teraflop supercomputing test bed called Project Hyperion in partnership with Lawrence Livermore Laboratories and several other vendors. A teraflop is a measure of how many floating point operations per second a computer can handle. The fastest computer today is running at more than 1 petaflop, a thousand times the power of a teraflop. The goal of the Hyperion testbed is to figure out file systems, cluster management software and networking technology in a peta-scale environment. That environment is getting closer as more power can now be crammed onto fewer machines than ever before.
As an example of the increasing power, Dell pointed to server density improvements thanks to the use of blade servers and the ability to place as many multicore processors on them as possible. He gave the example of a Dell cluster built in 2003 that used x86 processors on 1,250 servers to create a 9.8-teraflop computer. In 2008 it took 155 servers to build a 10.7-teraflop computer.
As compute power has become democratized and cheaper — Dell also noted that five years ago $1 million could buy someone 2 teraflops of computing vs. 25 teraflops today — the world is finding more uses for it. That means that in addition to the traditional scientific uses such as climate change research and gene sequencing, companies use HPC to create animated films and to virtually build products before they are ever manufactured. It also means HPC is a bright spot amid a tumbling economy.