Getting Ahead Without Leaving People Behind

October 8th, 2009 3:46 pm
Posted by Addison Snell
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The HPC industry is known for pushing the latest technology, with the spotlight often looking beyond what’s new to start talking about what’s next. Before a petaflop system was installed, system architects began discussing what it would take to reach an exaflop, and new arenas like accelerators, solid state disks, and cloud computing dominate roundtable discussions.

In the processor world, that means we talk about not just multi-core, but many-core, and how users will take advantage of these vast arrays of computational power. But in our enthusiasm to embrace this abundance, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the transition from single-core is far from complete.

Our 2009 High Performance Computing Site Census Survey found that as of April this year, 43% of the HPC installed base is single-core systems, making them still the leading processor type, ahead of dual-core (34%) and quad-core (20%).

To be sure, part of the reason for this is that some HPC users keep their systems in some form of employ for many years. The average life span of a cluster node is under three years, but many systems persist. We found about a quarter of the systems in our current census survey were installed before 2005, and over four-fifths of these were single-core.

Natural longevity isn’t the only contributing factor. First of all, some HPC users are still buying single-core systems. In our survey, one out of every seven systems installed since the beginning of 2008 was single core.

One potential reason for this might be that many users have not optimized their codes – or entered into ISV licensing agreements – to take multiple cores into account. This same phenomenon could lead HPC users to prolong the life of their existing single-core systems.

This is a significant, enduring issue for the HPC industry. The data points to a large population of the HPC market that may still help optimizing their environments for even dual-core, let alone quad, eight, and beyond.

Getting ahead of the competition is one part of the battle. Making sure your customers can keep up with you is the other.

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Tabor Research is an market research and intelligence firm focused exclusively on HPC. By partnering with HPCwire, we provide in-depth, inclusive views of HPC that are informed both by supply-side and demand-side research.