ARM tech key for exascale computing, with ARM-based systems launched at SC'14

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ARM technology has been adopted by a number of major HPC manufacturers, it has been announced at US supercomputing conference SC’14 in New Orleans.

Eurotech and E4 Computer Engineering have developed ARM-based solutions, while Cray is exploring architectures of 64-bit ARM processors for high performance computing.

ARM processors have been seen as a potentially powerful technology in reducing the energy consumption of HPC systems as computing power reaches exascale levels.

Mike Muller, chief technology officer, ARM said: ‘The planning for exascale computing presents some significant power challenges to this industry. The collaboration between ARM and its ecosystem partners has created a proven track record of energy-efficiency leadership and we firmly believe this can be applied to the supercomputing market.’

Eurotech has launched the Hi√e (High Velocity) system, a new addition to the Aurora line of supercomputers. The family of systems is built on the 'Brick' supercomputing architecture originally presented at ISC14; however, what makes the Hi√e systems different is that they can make use of either Intel or ARM processors.

Fabio Gallo, Eurotech HPC BU managing director, said: ‘With the introduction of Aurora Hi√e, Eurotech is yet again raising the bar in accelerated computing, delivering a whole new level of energy efficiency and density. Aurora Hi√e systems are a bold step in the path leading to technologically viable and affordable exascale systems.’

The Hi√e systems aim to make use of low power components such as ARM Micro X Gene ARM 64-bit in combination with ‘energy aware’ design to make the systems as energy efficient as possible, with theoretical values of 5 GFlops/Watt predicted.

In addition, the Hi√e is entirely hot water cooled, allowing the highest energy efficiency not only at machine level, but also at data centre level. In this way, a data centre could aim at a PUE on the 1.05 mark.

The Hi√e configuration with Intel E3 Haswell third generation processors and Intel Phi co-processors are available now, while additional configurations with Intel or APM X-Gene ARM-64 and Nvidia Tesla K40 GPU accelerators will be available in Q2 2015. The development kits of all of the mentioned configurations will be available Q1 2015.

Cray announced on the first day of SC’14 that it is evaluating alternative processor design points, including the potential use of 64-bit ARM.

Cray was recently awarded a research and development contract from the United States Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration under a programme called FastForward 2. This contract requires Cray to explore a range of topics around architectures of 64-bit ARM processors for high performance computing.

Additionally, Cray is working with Cavium, a provider of integrated semiconductor products and embedded processors, to deliver Cray clusters based on Cavium's 48-core work load optimised ThunderX ARM processors. The goal of this collaboration is to analyse ARM solutions for selected workloads to investigate the ARM value proposition in supercomputing.

Steve Scott, Cray senior vice president and chief technology officer, said: ‘Our adaptive supercomputing vision centres on system designs that integrate diverse processing technologies into a unified architecture. We see alternatives such as 64-bit ARM, custom ASICs and low-power Intel processors as enabling technologies for certain HPC and analytics workloads, and a natural fit for our strategy. Along with our current partnership with Intel, our participation in the DOE FastForward 2 project and our work with other technology providers, such as Cavium and ARM, gives us the opportunity to take a closer look.’

The first two announcements focused on upcoming technologies that will be available, at the earliest, in 2015. However, E4 Computer Engineering has developed an ARM-based solution that is available today. The sever, named the ARKA server RK003, is being showcased at the E4 booth at SC'14.

E4 Computer Engineering developed the platform for release at ISC14 this year, but the new product provides two major new features over the existing solutions already available.

The two major developments consist of a smaller form factor, 1U 17-inch short depth, ideal for high-density environments. The second addition is the implementation of Mellanox FDR Connect-X3 InfiniBand. The new features, combined with AppliedMicro's low-power X-Gene CPU processor architecture and high-performance, energy-efficient Nvidia Tesla accelerators, enable the platform to deliver extremely high performance per watt.

The ARKA RK003 is designed to address a wide range of HPC workloads, including bioinformatics, CAD/CFD, imaging and computer vision, as well as data analytics.

Piero Altoè, business development manager at E4 Computer Engineering, said: ‘We are thrilled about the ARKA platform being into production and ready to hit the market. AppliedMicro's X-Gene architecture has proven to be one of the most interesting devices to enable high-performance, low-power platforms that, at this moment in time, are fundamental for the future of HPC.’

Although the dominance of x86 servers is not quite over yet, SC’14 has shown that many major HPC manufacturers have ARM processors firmly in their plans over the coming years.