In technical computing, two converging trends at the moment are leading to an increase in data intensity: firstly, the sheer amount of data being collected with the mass deployment of sensor networks and analytical equipment, and secondly, there are larger and more complex simulations across a range of scientific disciplines.
When you study aerodynamics or indeed any fluid flow, in most cases you’re actually studying turbulence. Laminar (‘smooth’) flow is not terribly interesting in the real world, whereas turbulent flow is very common in nature and occurs nearly everywhere: in rivers, in the oceans, around our cars and airplanes, even in stars and galaxies.
The University of Southampton has an excellent pedigree in HPC and has been operating supercomputers for the past three decades. Its latest machine, Iridis 3, the third installation of the Iridis cluster, was officially launched in February 2010 and provides a substantial improvement in performance, giving researchers 20 times more computational power to play with than its predecessor.
Cloud computing means many different things to many different people, with so-called ‘cloud’ offerings ranging from simple online storage services to a handful of providers of supercomputing-as-a-service, with many variations in between. While the space is poorly defined, cloud-based services are rapidly becoming an established part of the HPC hardware used by a broad spectrum of users, from science and engineering to big business.
Like a grid?
HPC has the potential to benefit enormously from the trend of placing multiple cores on each processor chip. Suddenly, in virtually every desktop machine, multiple cores are available to speed up large tasks that can be broken into multiple parallel threads.
Drilling for oil is a tough business, and it’s only going to get tougher as global reserves begin to dwindle. Only a fraction of a per cent of the planet’s crust contains oil and, for any given reserve, only 10 to 60 per cent will be recoverable. It’s important for the corporate giants producing oil to open new wells to replace those that run dry, and so promising areas of land and sea are constantly being probed in order to locate new supplies.
The pharmaceutical industry has always been a competitive and fast-changing field. Drug discovery, which traditionally was based around small molecule chemistry (a classic drug like aspirin is composed of 21 atoms), now has to deal with the much larger proteins produced by biotechnology. Monoclonal antibodies, which fall under the classification of biologics, can be in the region of 20,000 atoms, three orders of magnitude larger. Laboratory practices are changing, with the move from paper to electronic records.
Once upon a time I spent several weeks, completely alone (long story; don’t ask), on top of a mesa with a precarious microecology, surrounded by desert. My only company was the local wildlife: mostly lizards, small rodents, and an unlikely colony of feral cats at the top of the food chain.