High Performance Computing Directions and Needs
Extract from a report prepared for the Bureau of Resource Sciences High Performance Computing Centre bycompleXia, August 1998
The High Performance Computing (HPC) environment within the Bureau of Resource Science (BRS) provides a research environment allowing access to advanced computing technologies for decision makers, scientists and others involved in analysing sustainability and development issues. The HPC centre offers facilities for research, analysis and visualisation of information and knowledge as well as providing the platforms required for education, training and technology transfer associated with advance computer technologies.
Computational research, simulation, visualisation and integrated modeling require facilities that provide enormous storage, fast computing responses and rapid networking. The HPC centre was developed to provide these facilities for research into ecologically sustainable development. This is a "grand challenge" problem with more than 108 entities and 105 attributes. Problems in this area are at least an order of magnitude beyond the requirements of global climate prediction.
The BRS was at the leading-edge of technologies; at one stage it had all three major hardware architectures in active use: Symmetric Multi-Processor (SMP); Massively Parallel (MPP); and Vector Parallel (VP) systems. The BRS had shown the way with innovative storage facilities, adopting techniques such as: Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) and distributed filesystems; FDDI backbone networks; multi-channel/multi-host RAID disk subsystems; Magneto-optical and tape storage silos; and switched network technologies, both as network backbones and to the desktop.
The current (1998) HPC environment (Figure 1) consists of:
Figure 1 Current HPCE Diagram
The concept behind the development of the HPC facility into the future is one of the "virtual computer (VC)" facility, where resources are connected together and provided to clients, but may not reside in close geographical proximity. That is, the facility is built on CPU and storage "components", not necessarily co-located, linked by networks totally transparently to the client (Figure 2). The CPU providing the computing resources may live in one building, city or even country; while the storage facilities are located elsewhere; and the client may be in a totally different building, city or country.
Sharing of data files between the systems is one of the most important aspects of the "Virtual Computer Strategy", which has been adopted by the HPC. The strategy integrates all HPC systems into a single entity thus ensuring a high degree of transparency of computing resources to the users. When fully implemented, users will be able to login to the environment and have resources allocated to them automatically by the system. This allocation will seek the most efficient utilisation of the environment while being transparent to the users. Initially, this strategy will be implemented locally. When costs for high speed bandwidth over long distances decrease it will become feasible to expand the strategy to incorporate national and global resources.
Current technology allows the separation of CPUs and the formation of dynamically allocated CPU "farms", over short distances at reasonable cost. Storage facilities combined with techniques such as HSM allow the separation of storage into various levels or groups with differing levels of performance, capacity and cost (Malafant and Radke, 1995). Local area networks are fast providing the performance and cost effectiveness required to implement high-speed (1 Gbit or more) connectivity although still at the local scale. The development of wide area communications, which supply the requisite bandwidth and cost effectiveness for the VC approach, are still to materialise. The development of the ubiquitous super-highway and the delivery of entertainment such as video-on-demand, may drive the delivery of reasonably priced higher bandwidth communications networks, which will at least allow the development of prototype VC environments.
Malafant, K.W.J. and Radke, S. (1995). The Terabyte problem in Environmental Databases. In: Recent Advances in Marine Science and Technology '94. Eds. Bellwood, O., Choat, H. and Saxena, N. ISBN 0 86443 540 1, Pp. 615-623.
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