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Brute Force vs High Performance Computing-What's the Difference?
By Bill Menger, Director -High Performance Computing,Ion
Today many are touting their abilities with High Performance Computing (HPC). HPC is seemingly found everywhere – Big Pharma, Wall Street Trading, Government Labs, Social Media, Big Data Search Engines, Oil and Gas, Automotive, Aeronautics and other fields. But is HPC really HPC or is it - just perhaps - Brute Force Computing? A second question should follow, “does it matter if we get the results we need?” I’d like to discuss these fundamentals and let you draw your own conclusions.“When these four systems— CPU, Disk, Network, and Software—are aligned, HPC is a wonder to behold” A friend of mine long ago suggested that the definition of a super computer was one that allowed you to do one order of magnitude more work than what you could accomplish with the typical largest computer around. He was thinking of physics problems, but it is not a bad definition for any field. Also long ago in the oil industry we started using array processors and CDC, Cray, IBM (and other) computers to do "embarrassingly parallel" work. If we could decompose the problem into many small tasks or many parallel streams of similar work, then we could get a lot accomplished in short order. The array processor and its follow-on computers allowed us to pipeline many "vectors" of numbers through a simple state machine and spit out answers on the other side. Nowadays with the major search engines, we might instead be searching for a word string or indexing a web page in a huge map-reduce algorithm. The form is not significantly different -- many small tasks, repeated over and over on different sets of data, with the results collected and abstracted to something higher-level (a 3D Seismic image or a web search result for instance) I contend that real "High Performance Computing" is a step above just doing many things in parallel. It is the difference between sending the Concorde across the Atlantic in 3 hours and sending 10,000 yachts. You can move many more people on the yachts but it will still take a couple of days. The folks that took the Concorde would have been to London and back before the others were halfway across. Real HPC requires a finely tuned balance of power in four dimensions: 1. The network must be very low latency and very high bandwidth. Ideally, the network is a backplane inside the computer. More ideally, the network is the space between layers of silicon on a 3D chip. 2. The computing units must be very fast and very capable.