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Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 52ndIDC HPC User Forum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Here are my impressions…

Industry Shake Up

IBM’s pending sale of its x86 server business to Lenovo represents a major change in the market share distribution among OEMs.  HP is set to be the sole leader in the space, with 3 players below it with about 15% share each.  IBM will focus its contributions around non-x86 hardware platforms as well as software.  Regardless, the x86 architecture will continue to dominate the market, and according to IDC, further increase its massive 80% share.

HPDA is Hot

High Performance Data Analysis, or IDC’s definition of Big Data meeting HPC, is heating up faster than any segment in the market.  Enterprise analytics will continue to pull HPC into mainstream commercial applications.  We are looking forward to delivering purpose built solutions that outperform traditional Enterprise infrastructure, and solve real problems.  IDC also predicts HPC growth as a whole will continue to outpace commodity Enterprise growth, as low end buyers are back into growth mode in 2014.

The New Arms Race

HPC is a major part of the economic race that has replaced the cold war arms race internationally.  With all this attention, however, HPC sites are now having to demonstrate ROI given the high cost of supercomputers (USD $200-$500 million in CAPEX alone), which leads to industrial partnerships.  The race to Exascale is dominating the international competition, with both bragging rights and real scientific progress on the line.  However, it’s a complicated problem that is starting to highlight software architecture as one of the major barriers.  Intel believes jobs that run as Exascale will have on the order of 1 billion(+) execution threads!  It’s no wonder coprocessors were used in 77% of sites in 2013, with NVIDIA leading the pack.  Despite remaining barriers in skills and applications, purchasing intent is strong for NVIDIA GpGPUs and Intel Phi, with FPGA in 3rd place.

Cloud HPC is Growing

IDC expects the public cloud for HPC to experience steady growth.  In 2013, 23.5% of HPC workloads ran in the public cloud, up from 13.8% in 2011.  At Nimbix, we see this as a result of the emphasis on software architectures, to handle both scale and cost efficiencies.  While the HPC User Forum marveled at the centers scaling jobs to thousands of cores, the “Missing Middle” continued to be in the spotlight.  For example, while one lab discussed running a 16,000 core Ansys Fluent job, the majority of all such jobs run painfully on 8 core desktop computers out of necessity.  The market is looking to the cloud to address the 128-512 core requirements most users have for these jobs.

Industrial Engagement

A major theme at the HPC User Forum was the importance of industrial engagement for centers, as a key to long term sustainability.  Unfortunately, many obstacles separate academia and industry, including cultural issues, staffing, confidentiality, etc.  Centers need major improvements in project management and service delivery practices.  We heard good examples of public/private partnerships from NCSA and Los Alamos National Laboratory.  The model works best when problems can be solved for multiple customers, leveraging both consulting and cycles as the keys to success.

The Coolest Tech Presented at the HPC User Forum

My vote goes to the two-phase immersion cooling from 3M and SGI, which can reduce energy cost by 95%.  3M’s Novec™ Engineered Fluid, which boils at a balmy 49 degrees centigrade, replaces water for cooling SGI’s systems.  Its low boiling point keeps immersed boards cool, and is recycled for constant use.

IDC’s 52nd HPC User Forum was a meeting of the minds of the space, with a watchful eye toward the future.  Mega Trends like Big Data/Analytics and Cloud Computing continue to broaden the adoption of this amazing technology to solve real problems faster than ever before.