Seven steps to HPC
High-Performance Computing is not solely reserved for major companies and research institutions: companies of every size and within every branch of industry can benefit from it. First, however, they must overcome their reservations. transtec lists seven steps to a successful migration to HPC.
Flagship applications of high-performance computing (HPC) are typically complex and computationally intensive simulations or data analysis projects in climate research, biology or aerospace, which run on supercomputers costing millions. Computing on such a scale is impressive and at the same time leads to the widespread opinion that HPC systems are reserved for major companies or organisations with huge research and development budgets.
This image is correct from a historical perspective: HPC systems were originally highly specialized and therefore barely affordable mainframe computers and supercomputers, before they were increasingly superseded by clusters based on standardized x86 systems. The reservations of many small and medium-sized companies have persisted even so, not just because of the costs, but also because of the reputed complexity of the systems: "Many people still are in awe when it comes to the term HPC", confirms Dr Oliver Tennert, Director of HPC Solutions transtec, the European-based HPC specialists.
But in fact there is no lower limit in terms of company size for using HPC systems, nor are there any restrictions in terms of the branch of industry: it could be an engineering company, a fabric designer or a shoe manufacturer: it's worth considering for all types of companies. There are various applications: from the development of any type of product or product parts to the optimization of production processes and the analysis of large databases. They generally lead to better product quality, reduced manufacturing costs or a quicker time-to-market - all of which are substantial competitive advantages.
If companies are planning to migrate to HPC systems, they should consider the following points:
1. Capacity utilization
The aim is to operate computer systems as efficiently as possible. But if workstations are always working at maximum capacity and or if the waiting times are getting longer and liner, consideration should be given to an HPC cluster.
2. Cluster compatibility
Are the existing applications compatible with clusters, i.e. can the calculations be carried out in parallel? Most applications are designed for this.
Compared with workstations, clusters are noisy and generate too much heat to be operated near a desk: minimum ergonomic requirements for the user should be reflected. Smaller companies in particular must consider where a cluster is to be operated: the ideal location is in a separate server room, and for large clusters, in a data centre.
4. External use
Alternatively, is an HPC system to be operated by an external service provider, such as in a cloud? If so, typical cloud aspects such as bandwidth, security, availability, data migration and, more generally, the content of service level agreements must be taken into account.
An HPC cluster should be operated as simply as possibleby both users and administrators, so the intrinsic complexity, especially of a demanding system, should not be obvious. For administrators, there are generally simple graphical interfaces for basic tasks, while for users there are web-based portals for example.
As tasks increase in the company, IT must keep pace with them. So make sure that the scalability of an HPC system is given.
7. Turnkey system
An HPC cluster can be configured in a heterogeneous way, i.e. with components from different suppliers, either for historical reasons or to benefit from specific performance advantages. However, it is generally preferable to have a homogeneous structure and a turnkey system from one source, which is integrated into the existing IT infrastructure.
"HPC must get rid of its aura of being something special and needs to be regarded as an everyday tool, so that such systems can also be used by so-called ‘normal’ companies", stresses Tennert. "For many companies, no matter of their size and branch of industry, there are good reasons for using powerful HPC systems, because ultimately they strengthen these companies' competitive capability."