What Is HPC And Why Is It Important?

Do you know that the world's fastest supercomputer can perform more than a quintillion calculations per second? That's faster than all the human brains on Earth combined!

What Is HPC And Why Is It Important?
Written by
Youssef El Manssouri
Published on
Mar 8, 2024
Read time
9 mins

Do you know that the world's fastest supercomputer can perform more than a quintillion calculations per second? That's faster than all the human brains on Earth combined! This is the power of high-performance computing (HPC).

HPC is the use of powerful computers to solve problems that are too complex or time-consuming for traditional computers to handle. HPC systems are typically made up of thousands or even millions of processors that work together to solve problems in parallel, meaning they can perform many calculations simultaneously, allowing them to solve problems much faster than traditional computers.

Who Uses HPC?

A diverse range of professionals utilizes HPC. Scientists and researchers rely on HPC to crunch massive datasets, simulate complex processes, and accelerate breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, medicine, climate science, and materials research.

Engineers harness its processing power to design everything from cutting-edge aircraft to energy-efficient buildings. Financial wizards also use HPC to navigate the complexities of markets and make split-second decisions.

If you're pushing the boundaries of what's possible in your field, chances are HPC is right there with you.

Real-World Examples Of HPC

HPC powers diverse fields, playing a crucial role in applications ranging from machine learning and AI to real-time stock trends and automated trading. Here are some real-world examples of HPC in action:

  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Autonomous vehicles: HPC is used to process data from sensors in real-time and make decisions about how to navigate safely. For example, Microsoft’s Azure HPC technology has used HPC to help self-driving cars avoid obstacles and other vehicles.

Drug research: HPC is used to create highly detailed models of biological systems. These models can then be used to test new drugs and predict how they will interact with the body, helping researchers to develop new drugs more quickly and efficiently.

Predictive analytics: HPC analyzes large amounts of data to predict future events. For example, HPC can predict the risk of fraud, the spread of disease, or a stock's future performance.

Image recognition: HPC is used to train AI models to recognize objects and patterns in images. For example, HPC can be used to train AI models to identify cancerous tumors in medical images.

  • Blockchain Technology

Distributed computing platforms: HPC can improve the performance and scalability of distributed computing platforms that use blockchain technology. For example, we at Sesterce use HPC to power our distributed computing platform.

Supply chain management: HPC can be used to improve the efficiency and transparency of supply chains by tracking the movement of goods and materials using blockchain technology. The company Provenance uses blockchain to track the chain of custody of products.

Payment systems: HPC can be used to develop and deploy secure and scalable payment systems using blockchain technology. Blockpoint simplifies the creation of payment systems that use blockchain technology.

  • Engineering

Lighter aircraft: HPC is used to design lighter and more fuel-efficient aircraft. For example, Boeing used HPC to design its new 777X aircraft, which is 12% more fuel-efficient than its predecessor.

Streamlined bikes: HPC is used to design streamlined bikes that are faster and more efficient. For example, the British cycling team used HPC to design its bikes for the 2016 Olympic Games, where they won 12 gold medals.

Fuel conservation: HPC is used to develop new technologies to conserve fuel. For example, Ford Motor Company used HPC to develop its EcoBoost engine technology, which improves fuel efficiency by up to 30%.

  • Financial services

Analytics: HPC performs complex financial analytics, such as risk simulations, logistics simulations, and contextual search. For example, JPMorgan Chase uses HPC to simulate the risk of its trading positions, which helps the bank to make better investment decisions.

Real-time stock trends: HPC tracks real-time stock trends and automates trading. For example, high-frequency trading firms use HPC to execute trades in milliseconds.

Automated trading: HPC is used to develop and deploy automated trading systems. For example, hedge funds use HPC to automatically develop algorithms that trade securities.

It’s worth noting that HPC actively plays a crucial role in other various fields. As HPC technology continues to develop, we can expect to see even more innovative and groundbreaking applications in the years to come.

Different Types Of HPC Systems

There are several types of HPC systems, each with strengths and weaknesses.

Supercomputers are the most powerful type of HPC system. Scientists and researchers typically use them to solve the most complex problems, such as simulating the weather and climate or designing new drugs. Supercomputers are very expensive to build and operate and are only accessible to a limited number of users.

Clusters are a type of HPC system that consists of multiple computers that are networked together. Clusters are less powerful than supercomputers but more affordable and accessible. Businesses and organizations often use clusters to solve problems such as data analysis and product development.

Grid computing is a type of HPC system that uses a network of geographically dispersed computers. Grid computing systems are typically used by scientists and researchers, and they can also be used for drug discovery and climate research.

Hybrid HPC systems combine cluster and grid computing elements to create a more robust and flexible HPC system. Hybrid HPC systems are often used by businesses and organizations that need to solve complex problems but also need to keep their costs down.

The best type of HPC system for a particular application will depend on the specific requirements of the application. For example, a supercomputer or hybrid HPC system may be the best choice if an application requires a lot of computing power. On the other hand, a grid computing system may be the best choice if an application needs to scale to many users.

Key Components of HPC Systems

High-performance computing (HPC) systems are made up of several key components:

  • Compute nodes: Compute nodes are the computers that do the actual work of solving problems. HPC systems typically have hundreds or even thousands of compute nodes.
  • Storage: HPC systems need a lot of storage to store the data they’re working with and the results of their calculations. HPC systems typically use various storage technologies, such as hard drives, solid-state drives (SSDs), and tape drives.
  • Network: HPC systems need a high-speed network to connect the compute nodes together and to the storage system. HPC networks typically use a variety of technologies, such as Ethernet, InfiniBand, and Omni-Path.

In addition to these key components, HPC systems may also include other components, such as:

  • Head node: The head node is a special compute node that manages the HPC system. It is responsible for distributing work to the compute nodes and collecting the results.
  • Scheduling software: Scheduling software decides which compute nodes should work on which tasks.
  • Monitoring software: Monitoring software tracks the performance of the HPC system and identifies any problems.

How HPC Systems Work

HPC systems work by dividing large problems into smaller tasks that can be processed simultaneously on multiple compute nodes. This process is called parallel computing.

To divide a problem into smaller tasks, HPC systems use a technique called domain decomposition. Domain decomposition involves dividing the problem domain into smaller subdomains. Each subdomain is then assigned to a different compute node.

Once the problem has been divided into subdomains, the HPC system uses a scheduler to distribute the tasks to the compute nodes. The scheduler is responsible for ensuring that the tasks are distributed evenly and that the compute nodes are not overloaded.

The compute nodes then work on their assigned tasks. Once a compute node has finished working on its task, it sends the results back to the head node. The head node then collects the results from all of the compute nodes and assembles them into the final solution.

Here is a simplified example of how an HPC system might be used to solve a problem:

  1. A scientist wants to simulate the weather.
  2. The scientist divides the Earth into a grid of squares.
  3. Each square in the grid is assigned to a different compute node.
  4. The compute nodes calculate the weather conditions for their assigned squares.
  5. The compute nodes send the results back to the head node.
  6. The head node assembles the results from all of the compute nodes into a complete weather forecast.

Benefits Of Using HPC

HPC offers several benefits, including:

  • Speed: HPC systems can solve problems much faster than traditional computers. This is because HPC systems have many more processors and can process many tasks simultaneously.
  • Accuracy: HPC systems can produce more accurate results than traditional computers. HPC systems can use more complex algorithms and process more data.
  • Scalability: HPC systems can be scaled to solve problems of any size. This is because HPC systems can comprise hundreds or even thousands of processors.

One benefit example is in the development of AI models. AI models are trained on large amounts of data. This training process can be very time-consuming, especially for large and complex AI models. HPC systems can significantly reduce the time it takes to train AI models.

For example, Google uses HPC to train its AI models for search, translation, and image recognition. Google's HPC systems can train AI models in hours or even minutes, which would take days or even weeks on traditional computers.

Another example of how HPC can benefit AI is in the deployment of AI models. AI models are often used to make real-time decisions, such as in self-driving cars and financial trading. HPC systems can provide the computing power needed to deploy AI models in real-time.

For example, Tesla uses HPC to power its self-driving cars. Tesla's HPC system processes data from the car's sensors and decides how to navigate the car safely.

Challenges Of Using HPC

High-performance computing is a powerful tool, but it also comes with a few challenges. Some of the key challenges of using HPC include:

  • Cost: HPC systems can be expensive to build and operate because they require specialized hardware and software.
  • Complexity: HPC systems can be complex to install and manage. HPC systems typically consist of hundreds or even thousands of processors and other components.
  • Security: Hackers often target HPC systems because they contain valuable data. Implementing strong security measures to protect HPC systems from attack is crucial.

In addition to these critical challenges, there are other challenges associated with using HPC, such as:

  • Programming for parallel computing: HPC systems require programs explicitly written for parallel computing. This can be a challenge for programmers unfamiliar with parallel computing.
  • Data management: HPC systems often need to process large amounts of data. It can be a challenge to manage and store this data efficiently.
  • Power consumption: HPC systems consume a lot of power, which can be a challenge for organizations trying to reduce their environmental impact.

Despite these challenges, HPC is essential for solving complex problems in various fields. As HPC technology continues to develop, the cost and complexity of HPC systems are decreasing, making them more accessible to a broader range of users.

Here are some tips for overcoming the challenges of using HPC:

  • Choose the right HPC system for your needs: There are a variety of HPC systems available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing a system that is right for your specific needs is essential.
  • Invest in training: Training your staff to use HPC systems effectively is important because it will help reduce the complexity of using them and improve the efficiency of your workflows.
  • Implement security measures: It is vital to implement strong security measures to protect your HPC systems from attack, including using strong passwords, encrypting data, and installing firewalls.

By following these tips, you can overcome the challenges of using HPC and reap its benefits.

High-performance computing (HPC) is a rapidly evolving field with a bright future. As HPC technology develops, HPC systems will become more powerful, affordable, and accessible, opening up new possibilities for using HPC to solve complex problems in various fields.

If you are interested in learning more about HPC or want to start using HPC to solve your own problems, please contact Sesterce. We build green HPC data centers that can help you reduce your environmental impact while also saving you money on your energy costs.

You can contact us at +1 (302) 587-7867, Monday through Friday, 9:00am - 5:00pm EST. You can also follow us on social media for the latest Sesterce news.