Predictions for Supercomputing 2012

January 4, 2012

By Eng Lim Goh 

January 4, 2012 | Guest Commentary | As we welcome 2012, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we are entering a new golden age of high performance computing (HPC) that will drive progress and growth in many other fields. The reason for this is profound: the capabilities of the world’s largest computers running in research facilities, laboratories, and educational institutions, have crossed an important threshold, and we are moving from the information age to the “knowledge age.” 

HPC systems have evolved from providing chunks of information which come as the result of performing calculations, to now enabling interactive insights and knowledge as a function of their ability to work in domain real-time speeds or faster. Our efforts continue as we can now facilitate evolutionary changes in manufacturing, interpret and react to weather patterns, and more effectively deliver personalized medicine, all for the benefit of humankind. 

Modeling a digital heart beating on a computer in real time has great value to researchers and doctors alike. Systems in place at NASA permit scientists to model—at faster than real-time—ocean current patterns and project the performance and reliability of complex systems from aircraft wheel assemblies to rocket nose cones. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can more accurately predict and measure climate trends and anomalies. Professor Stephen Hawking and his staff at COSMOS in the UK are working to better understand the origins of our universe. Whether the work is being conducted for pure research or within the public or private sectors, it serves to reduce suffering, improve our lives, and help answer humankind’s profound questions. 

With that, here are my ten predictions for high performance computing in the coming year: 

1. Technical computing will bring truly personalized medicine: The cost of personalized genome sequencing has come down to be on par with the cost of a standard MRI, and time-to-insight for researchers is accelerating. In the next 12 months we’ll see drugs designed, produced, and administered according to a patient’s specific genomic pattern. 

2. Increasing precision in severe weather prediction: In the field of meteorology, good progress has been made in forecasting severe storm direction and timing. More precision on intensity is needed, and we’ll see substantial improvements in 2012.   

3. Shared memory computing will find the unexpected: We will see shared memory computers going mainstream in the next year. We will begin to “expect to find the unexpected” as large problems are more easily computed using these “big brain” data intensive computers. 

4. An increase in the use of Hadoop: Just as we have seen growth in technical computing, we are also seeing a rise in the use of Hadoop. It’s my belief that Hadoop will become the hottest Big Data technology utilized by companies and governments alike as they realize the need to capture, process, and analyze unstructured data, such as high definition media files. 

5. Even more pronounced interests in co-processors or accelerators: A threshold number of users will be evaluating the benefits of having CPUs attached with co-processors that contain order-hundred to thousands of cores. They will also be measuring the tradeoffs between ease of programming these co-processors and their benefits.  

6. Enterprises will adopt public clouds: Some of the world’s biggest clouds are private, including the government and its agencies. However, enterprises will continue to “crack the nut” and adopt public cloud technology, following in the footsteps of Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft. 

7. Data centers will evolve their green initiatives: As the PUE measurement of data center efficiency approaches the “perfect” 1.0, we will begin to see heat do more than just dissipate when it leaves the data center. Companies will next find ways to recycle that heat. A favorite example is a brewery situated right next to a multi-megawatt data center, recycling its heat for production. 

8. Broader use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD): CFD has already shown how powerful it can be, allowing manufacturers of everything from bicycles to spacecraft the ability to bypass costly and time-consuming physical prototyping and replace it with computer modeling. CFD has already woven its way into medicine as scientists use CFD to study blood flow through human arteries. This next year CFD will find practical use in systems biology. 

9. Global warming will become more precise: Projections of global warming over the next 100 years will converge to a few degrees difference, becoming much more precise, and pointing out with greater accuracy critical “hot spots” in different areas on earth. 

10. Theories of the universe will be are proven: Professor Stephen Hawking’s key theories on black hole evaporation and the formation of the universe will be confirmed by experiment and observation.  

While it’s not yet possible to see the future, we are content to be in a unique position to help our customers shape the future. From weather and climate modeling to energy use to genomics, we’ve seen how the use of high performance computing can drive great developments in science and technology, rather than just analyze and report on it. 

On their way toward discovery, the passion that our customers exhibit as they tackle some of the most important technical computing challenges of our day, motivates us to continue innovating as we design their next computing solutions. 

Dr. Eng Lim Goh is chief technology officer at SGI.