Intel HPC powers Imperial College and dominates Top500

Today we took to Soho Square for a briefing on High Performance Computing (HPC) from Intel. It showed off bits and bobs we’ve already reported on, such as its Knights Ferry platform, and had some interesting case studies from Imperial College London and Cancer Research UK.

HPC systems are “absolutely vital,” says Imperial College, in the work that they do. Same goes for Cancer Research UK – to understand the structure of DNA, which must be carefully analysed to further understand the nature of tumours, can’t be done easily without some serious cores to help.

The HPC Cancer Research UK uses is a 512 core machine in the basement but the power under the bonnet means medical simulations are a breeze. For example – it can accurately simulate and analyse a human genome in the space of just one day. Or an entire person in a week. 

Cancer Research UK told us that it is a ‘typical’ user of HPC. Local compute power will be needed in institutions across the world, particularly in biology, which technologically is just now catching up to engineering and chemistry.

Every single department at Imperial uses HPC at some point. They’re excellent for theoretical experiments which are costly to perform, for example using high temperatures or simulating a wind tunnel. It’s an SGI Ice, cx2, 3124 core, 7 terabytes of memory, 32.14 teraflops and is 439 in the Top 500 list.

Intel believes the HPC market, already established, is going to explode – as the demo machine at the briefing sounded as it was about to – and it’s in a good position. Intel’s main focus is on general purpose HPC, with a smooth integration between hardware and software such as its Parallel Studio XE, recently launched. The idea is that scientists, financiers or indeed anyone who requires some serious power will be able to use an Intel-powered HPC machine and have it do the complex equations for them – not necessarily because customers are not capable, but it removes another step between the user and the result. 

Sean McGuire believes compared to competitor offerings, Intel’s general purpose HPC offerings are the go-to because of their software integration. Unnamed rivals, we’re thinking AMD and Nvidia, may have powerful systems and lucrative contracts but they’re a risky investment. Built from the ground up, according to Intel, you can’t be sure the system will be fitted to customer needs until after it’s built.

Which leads to a question asked by TechEye. We asked Intel how it is doing in the Indian market and it said, very well. Intel is apparently very popular in India where a war between AMD and Spintel was predicted by Gartner. You just need to look at the Top500 and see that Intel dominates with about 80 percent of the chart, we’re told. India’s Tata is a big customer.

We never did find out what Robert Maskell meant when he compared a tube of Pringles to HPC, but we have his card and we’ll do some digging. Maskell says he can’t think of a single instance where HPC has not touched on something in the modern world. We would suggest: walks in the park and Pringles, but guess we’re wrong on the latter.

*EyeSee Talking briefly on GDDR5, Intel suggested we can expect a huge announcement in about six months.

*EyeSee II Here’s an update on the Pringles: