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3 Trends that Define the Future of HPC

An opinion piece by the EMEA director of HPC and AI at Lenovo

High-performance computing (HPC) is entering a new era, which is characterized by customer needs for power efficiency in advanced computing, greater accessibility to the technology, and partnerships on artificial intelligence projects.

Three key trends come into focus as a result:

  1. Exascale computing, which drives high-performance computing to a new threshold of performance and power efficiency

  2. Artificial intelligence, which is converging with HPC to help solve some of the toughest problems facing humanity such as climate change

  3. High Performance Computing as a Service (HPCaaS), which opens up HPC to a new audience

These trends are going to define the potential of HPC through this decade and beyond. When it comes to the biggest problems facing humanity, from disease to climate change to weather prediction, HPC is working hand-in-hand with AI to provide solutions.

Why exascale computing matters

Exascale computing refers to systems that can perform a quintillion − 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 − calculations per second. It has been widely hailed as heralding a new age in HPC, allowing scientists to achieve ever greater insights, such as modelling the climate and understanding the human brain more efficiently than ever before.

Exascale computing focuses on efficiency − how to squeeze the best possible performance at the very boundaries of the laws of physics. But a major challenge is its energy use and issues of sustainability that require efficient cooling systems for better reliability and performance.

The best solution is through ‘exascale to everyscale,’ where breakthroughs from exascale computing would cascade down into other levels of HPC. Most businesses do not need an exascale system costing hundreds of millions, but can still extract value at petascale, for example (a mere 1,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second).

Why HPC is built for AI

When it comes to cutting-edge research, there is a convergence between AI and HPC; the two technologies work symbiotically a lot of the time. One of the main HPC uses is for training AI models, which has seen demand for compute power soar. There also is a crossover where AI is deployed in a traditional HPC workflow to make the research more productive.

Powered by HPC, AI and machine learning (ML) are helping researchers to deal with some of the biggest problems humanity faces. From discovering ways to feed the global population in the coming decades to diagnosing sight-threatening retinal disorders, HPC systems are offering universities and global companies the computing horsepower to drive cutting-edge AI and ML research.

For example, research powered by AI and HPC is solving the problem of reduced food yields caused by climate change. Food crop yields are already falling and global food production will have to increase by 50% to keep up with increasing demand as populations grow.

The end result is that humanity needs new, more efficient ways to grow food. HPC will be central to solving this problem, using powerful, efficient computing infrastructure aligned with AI to crunch enormous amounts of data harvested from sources such as satellite imagery, weather reports and even sensors in fields to boost crop production.

In medicine, AI powered by HPC could open up a whole new way of treating illness, delivering the insights required to tailor treatments genetically to each individual patient. ‘Personalized medicine’ is predicted to reshape the way we treat illness, but unlocking its potential requires an enormous amount of computing power.

Genomics optimization that relies on super-powerful HPC resources has accelerated the sequencing of the human genome from more than 150 hours to just 18 minutes, bringing the dawn of personalized medicine within reach.

HPC as a service

Just as in most other areas of computing, ‘as a service’ models are changing the way HPC is consumed and making it more accessible to researchers around the world. Cloud-based HPC is its fastest-growing area, allowing organizations to rapidly add additional capacity.

With HPCaaS, customers can pay monthly with a very minimal capital investment, reducing total cost by eliminating over-provisioning. Customers are able to get the best and newest tech in HPC, refreshing it when it becomes obsolete.

Making the world better

All three trends combined mean HPC can make the world a better place: The sheer power of exascale computing provides new breakthroughs to empower the discoveries of the future, AI provides the intelligence and analytics to yield superior insights, and ‘as a service’ models will offer greater economic access to this technology than ever before.

It is an exciting time for HPC.

About the Author(s)

Noam Rosen, Lenovo EMEA director of HPC and AI

Noam Rosen is the EMEA director of HPC and AI at Lenovo. A former lawyer, his areas of expertise include aspects of the law relating to digital data, information technology and innovation.

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