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Intel shares high-performance computing predictions

At a recent briefing in London, representatives from Intel commented on the state of high-performance computing (HPC). ‘We are absolutely headed towards multi and many core within the next three years,’ said Sean McGuire, director strategic government, HPC programs Emea. ‘HPC is pervasive.’ Stating that the UK leads the way in certain scientific applications of HPC– namely bio sciences and weather forecasting – the company offered details of how HPC is being used for purposes ranging from gaining insight into blood clots, to analysing data within the financial sector.

Imperial College London’s Simon Burbidge said that while it is hard to say just how important HPC is, every department at the college uses it as a fundamental part of their research. Installed in 2009, the system in place, dubbed cx2, is an SGI Altix ICE 8200 boasting 3,124 cores, 32.14 Tflops of performance and seven Tbytes of memory.

One of the key requirements was that the system be expandable and it was upgraded a month ago, and is offering researchers greater flexibility by complementing experiments and enabling simulation-based studies, such as observations of blood flow through the aortic valve, that are not otherwise possible. The cx2 has reached position 439 in the Top500 list.

Another organisation benefiting from an HPC facility is the Cambridge Research Institute, part of Cancer Research UK. Commenting that the developments in gene sequencing are changing the way we approach bio science, Peter McCallum, head of IT and scientific computing, stated that scientists need local access to HPC as it has become mainstream in this field. This has thrown up certain issues, however, such as the limitation of IT budgets and the question of whether the processing needs to be done on site or whether it can be pushed into the cloud. The main drawback of pursuing the latter option, said McCallum, is the long-term cost of storing the massive amount of generated data, as well as the time taken to push that data out.

Intel echoed the opinion that HPC is mainstream, and believes the next few years will see a number of further developments towards highly parallelised performance. The company also used the briefing to offer details regarding its Knights Ferry software development platform, which features 32 cores, 1.2 Ghz, 128 threads at four threads/core, is bundled with Intel HCP tools and eliminates the need for dual programming architecture. An announcement initially made at SC10 was also repeated.

This latest news is the unveiling of Knights Corner: the first product based on the Intel Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture. Developed to help accelerate highly parallel applications, it will be made on the company’s 22-nanometer manufacturing (nm) process – using transistor structures as small as 22 billionths of a meter – and will use Moore's Law to scale to more than 50 Intel processing cores on a single chip. The company stated that neither member of the Knights family will replace traditional server processors as the majority of workloads will still run best on Intel Xeon processors.

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