Storage for high-performance computing


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UT Austin makes Ranger available to private industry. While 90% of Ranger's time is allocated to the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid--an organization of 11 universities and national laboratories--its remaining time is given to UT researchers as well as commercial organizations, which receive 5% of Ranger's time through its industry affiliates program.

One of the commercial organizations using Ranger is SiCortex Inc., a supercomputer startup in Maynard, MA. The company develops high-performance, low- power supercomputers and uses Ranger to get a sense of how applications perform.

"Since we are competing in the marketplace and looking at clusters--which we don't see as the wave of the future--we have to get a sense of how applications perform on x86-based platforms," says Avi Purkayastha, application engineer at SiCortex. "In order to do well in designing our systems, we have to understand our competition in the marketplace and that's where Ranger comes in."

Saudi Aramco in Dhahran uses Ranger to "simulate reservoir models that contain billions of cells [maps]," says Jorge Pita, petroleum engineering specialist. "That research requires systems with a very large number of processors and memory. The reason we want to do that type of simulation with billions of cells is to get more accuracy."

Saudi Aramco uses the information from the simulations to plan the

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production of oil fields in Saudi Arabia. "The more detail you have in the characterization of the reservoir, the more accurate your forecasts are going to be of the production of oil," says Pita. While Saudi Aramco has its own HPC clusters, they're not of a sufficient size to run simulations on billions of cells. Saudi Aramco's biggest reservoir simulation cluster has 4,096 cores and 4TB of memory. "That size is good enough for many things, but not for pushing the billion-cell-and-beyond envelope," says Pita. "On Ranger, we can do 1 billion or 6 billion cell simulations that we couldn't do on our local cluster."

A recent study conducted by the Columbus, OH-based Council on Competitiveness and IDC underpins the use of HPC in private industry. Respondents to the study were 29 member companies of the Edison Welding Institute (EWI), which performs R&D for small- to medium-sized companies in the aerospace, automotive, government, energy, chemical, heavy manufacturing, medical and electronics industries. Many of those surveyed said they have important problems they're unable to solve with their current computers. They also cited a lack of strategic software and adequate HPC talent, as well as cost constraints as barriers to HPC adoption.

According to Jie Wu, research manager for IDC's high-performance and technical computing team, the market for HPC servers grew 15% in 2007 to reach $11.6 billion. From 2002 to 2007, the HPC server market grew an aggregate 134%. IDC projects this market will reach $16 billion by 2011.

This was first published in October 2008

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