HPC in the first decade of a new millenium: a perspective, part 7

Storage changes
In the beginning of the millenium, Fibre Channel ruled the roost. Nothing could touch it. SATA and SAS were a ways away. SCSI was used in smaller storage systems. Networked storage meant a large central server with ports. SANs were on the rise.
In HPC you have to move lots of data. Huge amounts of data. Performance bottlenecks are no fun.
FC is a slow technology. It is designed to connect as many disks as you can together for SAN architecture. It is not designed specifically for HPC, to move data as fast as possible. Yeah, I know, there are a few spit-takes from folks who think FC is fast.
Put it this way. FC4 is a 4Gb/s network protocol. Thats about 500MB/s. FC8 is an 8 Gb/s network protocol. Thats about 1000 MB/s.
10GbE is a 10 Gb/s network protocol, or about 1200 MB/s. 40 Gb/s QDR ways in at a hefty 3200 MB/s.
As I said, FC4 and FC8 aren’t fast.

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HPC in the first decade of a new millenium: a perspective, part 6

The recycling of an older business model using newer technology
ASPs began the decade promising to reduce OPEX and CAPEX for HPC systems. They flamed out, badly, as they really didn’t meet their promise, and you had all these nasty issues of data motion, security, jurisdiction, software licenses, utilization, and compatibility.
The concept itself wasn’t bad, create an external data center where you can run stuff, and pay for what you use. The implementation, atop expensive RISC hardware? Not so much good.
This market largely died in the bubble. But it gave rise to a concept of selling remote access to software as a service. Don’t set up your own apps, let us deliver the functionality to you. This is different than “let us create a virtual remote data center for you.” CRM applications grew out of this, as did other types of apps.
The Web 2.0 hype and the soon to be “new” web 2.0 bubble began in earnest, providing a “near desktop experience” for users. The desktop OS became less important than the web application. Soon security issues associated with clients became more important than on the server side.

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HPC in the first decade of a new millenium: a perspective, part 5

Accelerators in HPC …
In 2002, my business partner (he wasn’t then), showed me these Cradle SOC chips. 40 cores or something like that, on a single chip, in 2002 time frame. My comment to him was, we should figure out a way to put a whole helluva lotta them (e.g. many chips with RAM etc) onto PCI cards, with programming environments.
Make them easy to use. Easy to program.
We spent the next 2-3 years looking at a bunch of architectures, a bunch of chips. Wrote a business plan, tried to get funding, had term sheets drafted and yanked back, went to compete in the state technology competitive funding program, and lost.
We had this idea in 2003, that accelerators would be important in HPC. In 2005-2006 we had a good rough guess as to how and why, and even when.

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HPC in the first decade of a new millenium: a perspective, part 4

The impact of markets, and government upon HPC …
While the charts from top500.org are nice, they don’t tell everything that happened in this interval. We had 3 recessions, 2 major (2001 and the “Great Recession”) and 1 minor one. We had significant changes in research funding from the US federal government … a refocusing of DARPA on things less HPC specific.
These elements all contributed to the trajectory within the decade. Several small players turned into larger players, then flamed out. Linux Networx, arguably one of the better contenders, couldn’t avoid bad business conditions imposed upon it. Some have commented at insidehpc (can’t find the reference to this now) that the HPCC programs are killing off the vendors. There may be some truth to that.

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HPC in the first decade of a new millenium: a perspective, part 3

The relentless onslaught of clusters …
We are also mostly doing SMPs and MPPs then. Clusters are barely registering. See the chart and the data to get more perspective.
What happened in the market was a simple alteration of the cost scale per flop. Clusters provided massive numbers of cheap cycles.
Add to this that MPI has been standardized, reasonably well designed, and people were migrating codes to it. Funny, MPI on a cluster runs just as nicely as MPI on the SGI.
At a small fraction of the cost.
Pay attention to that. It is happening again. More in a bit.
As you can see from the chart and the data, clusters began to appear on the big radars around 2001 time frame. They began to eat everyone’s lunch around 2002, and simply did not stop.

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HPC in the first decade of a new millenium: a perspective, part 2

The death of RISC …

obligatory Monty Python Holy Grail quote:
old man: I’m not dead yet, I think I’ll go for a walk
John Cleese: Look, you are not fooling anyone …

The RISC vendors (SGI, HP, IBM, …) realized that RISC was dead, and that EPIC would be the technology that killed it. I was at SGI at the time, and disagreed that EPIC (Itanium) was going to be the killer. I thought it was going to be x86.
My rationale for this were benchmarks that I had been running on systems around that time. Some basic testing I did for some projects I was working on at the time, from an email in 2001 (found it recently cleaning out an old/dying machine)

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HPC in the first decade of a new millenium: a perspective, part 1

[Update: 9-Jan-2010] Link fixed, thanks Shehjar!
This is sort of another itch I need to scratch. Please bear with me. This is a long read, and I am breaking it up into multiple posts so you don’t have to read this as a huge novel in and of itself.
Many excellent blogs and news sites are giving perspectives on 2009. Magazine sites are talking about the hits in HPC over the last year in computing, storage, networking.
You can’t ignore the year itself, and I won’t. Doug Eadline’s piece is (as always) worth a careful read.
I want to look at a bigger picture though than the last year. The last decade.
My reasoning? A famous quote by George Santayana. Ok, we aren’t doomed to repeat our past, but something very remarkable is going on in the market now. Something that has happened before, and under similar circumstances.
Let me explain.
In the beginning …

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