Asks Why HPC Matters

SC13 attendees hear a NASA presentation on HPC’s impact on space exploration.

Judging only by the patter during bash-fests in movies and comic books, very few entities whose first name is “Super” have a problem figuring out whether they matter or not. While there are fewer capes and tights involved in anything termed “high-performance” rather than “super,” the level of commitment required to produce genuinely high-performing anything usually discourages the participation of anyone who is still shaky on the value of the end result.

Officers of don’t seem to have many doubts about why super- or high-performance computing (HPC) matters. They’ve even put together a contest (prize: free registration at their 2014 conference) to the fan who submits the best one-minute videos expressing “their thoughts, visions and experiences with HPC and why it matters.”

“Your creativity and passion will be the key in helping us share the personal story of HPC to the public, to policy makers, and to our colleagues around the world,” according to an announcement of the #HPCMatters Video Challenge contest posted Nov. 21 near the close of SC Conference 2013 (SC13), Nov. 17-22 in Denver.

The SC Conference’s own effort (posted on the SC14 YouTube Channel) doesn’t lack for scope. “HPC is more than just high-performance computing,” the animated-text in the video reads. “It’s seeing structure in the chaos and finding signals in the noise… It’s unlocking radical innovations… and making our world a safer place so we can thrive again.

“HPC is solving the hardest problems in the world, but it’s also at your local supermarket, under the hood of your car and steering your investments,” according to the video, which gets a little creepy at this point without being any less accurate about the uses of high-performance IT.

The odd assumption underlying the SC14 conference slogan “HPC Matters, now, more than ever,” is counterintuitive, however. Usually, an effort to defend the reason for a product or market to exist only comes from those still committed to it when the rest of the world has moved on.

That’s not the case with either supercomputing or HPC, both of which have been turned into major corporate assets by demand for compute-intensive functions such as big-data analytics, and by cloud and other technologies that give users access to both high-performing and supercomputing resources.

Even supercomputing-parent-company Cray is building “Big Data” supercomputers specifically modified make them better at discovering the secrets of customer behavior rather than those of the universe.

Revenue from the sale of supercomputers jumped by 30 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, according to an IDC report in June. The number of HPC computers sold during the first quarter of 2013 was 16.4 percent higher than the first quarter of 2012, though revenue only grew 5.3 percent.

“Supercomputer revenues actually accelerated during the global economic downturn, driven by the growing recognition of the crucial role these systems play in economic competitiveness as well as scientific progress,” according to IDC’s announcement of the report, which quoted Earl Joseph, head of the Technical Computing practice at IDC.

That doesn’t sound like an IT discipline that attracts so little respect as to inspire a campaign reassuring potential customers it still “Matters.” It sounds like a market segment that has been overshadowed by more mundane forms of computing for so long that its leaders have not yet been able to shed the insecurity of being trapped in a niche market long after an influx of customers pushed them into primary roles in the mainstream.

Or maybe they’re just uncomfortable with changes that don’t detract from HPC’s role predicting dangerous weather patterns, designing safer, more fuel efficient vehicles, and solving the secrets of the universe, but also require it to find and exploit weaknesses in financial markets or analyze customer behavior.

Either way, those interested in entering their opinions in the contest should post videos no more than one minute long to the SC Conference Series YouTube channel using the tag #HPCMatters.

The two videos with the most “Like” votes by Aug. 1 2014 will win free registration for one person per video to the SC14 conference Nov. 17-20 in New Orleans.