Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Saturday, December 27, 2014
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Adaptive Teams with NCSA to Help Solve Real World Computational Challenges Faced by Companies Both Large and Small 

Adaptive Computing recently joined the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) Private Sector Program (PSP) and that’s good news for small to medium sized manufacturers (SMMs), a.k.a. the “missing middle.”

Adaptive is known for its cloud management solutions and HPC workload management systems driven by Moab, a multi-dimensional intelligence engine. It’s a nice fit with NCSA PSP resources, including the Center’s iForge supercomputer system that is specifically designed to meet the computational needs of industry partners like Boeing, BP, Caterpillar, John Deere, Proctor & Gamble, and Rolls Royce, among others.

We spoke recently with Michael Jackson, President of Adaptive, about the alliance and he quickly homed in on the benefits that can accrue to SMMs that take advantage of NCSA’s PSP. He points out that many small manufacturers are not fully aware of what high performance computing (HPC) is, what it can do for them, and how to get their apps up and running in this new environment.

These SMMs may have a number of high-end workstations running 2D or even 3D CAD, perhaps conducting crash simulations, or testing the strengths of different designs and materials.  But as their business grows, they are afflicted with desktop sprawl in an attempt to meet the needs of increasing numbers of engineers and designers who need access to the powerful – and expensive – workstations.  

Problem is that a normal desktop typically has between five and 20 percent utilization. Power users might reach 40 percent; but, in general, overall utilization is spotty and resources are wasted during the evening hours despite the demand for increased computational horsepower.  Not a good situation for small companies that must carefully control overhead and reduce costs.

Enter HPC.  “With HPC, as long as the customer has enough workload, we can guarantee 90 to 99 percent utilization,” Jackson says.  

For a customer who has been experiencing 20 to 30 percent utilization, the savings in both time and money are immense.  The idea is to move jobs and apps from standalone workstations on to a far more powerful, centralized HPC resource. This is not only economically advantageous, but also allows the company to prioritize its activities based on what is most important to the business.

NCSA not only provides the HPC resources in the form of iForge, allowing users to test their applications in a well-understood, dedicated HPC environment, but also the support of a skilled staff and researchers from the University of Illinois.  

Jackson comments that PSP is a “wonderful resource” for SMMs to test the HPC waters and understand the value proposition behind the move to this next level of computing.  He emphasizes that the smaller companies will not be working in a vacuum – PSP provide the in-house expertise that matches users applications to the iForge-based HPC environment.

NCSA has an impressive list of core competencies. As it notes on its web site, the organization is able to solve formerly intractable business problems through its expertise in:  

•    Code optimization and heuristic algorithms aimed at large-scale computation
•    Virtual prototyping, computational simulation, and advanced execution modeling
•    Application development for rapidly scaling software
•    Visualization modeling and image pattern recognition
•    World-class cybersecurity tools and techniques
•    Data mining, data analytics, data provenance, and knowledge management

Managing with Moab

And what does Adaptive bring to the table?  With Moab, NCSA now has a tool that allows them to use its policy-based governance capabilities to consolidate and virtualize resources, allocate and manage applications, optimize service levels, and reduce operational costs.  In effect, Adaptive enables NCSA to act as a HPC cloud resource, delivering service to multiple tenants, and allowing these tenants to control resources and consumption.

Jackson notes that there is some concern among SMMs unfamiliar with the idea of shared HPC computational resources. They feel that if you don’t own the machine itself, you lose control.  However the Adaptive management software ensures that they have full ownership of their applications in this shared environment.  They are also provided with all the data needed to allocate resources based on business needs and flexibly change priorities when necessary.  

The Adaptive software also reduces the barriers for users not familiar with HPC by providing access to the system through a simple portal.  Says Jackson, “You upload your workload or script that launches the application, push the submit button, and get your results.”  

Recently Merle Giles, who runs the NCSA Private Sector Program, worked with a small consumer sporting goods manufacturer that was bumping up against the limits of its in-house computer capabilities. The company wanted to move its workload – in particular its modeling and simulation requirements – to HPC, but had no idea how to go about making this happen.  Giles volunteered to put them in touch with applications experts within NCSA to give them a hand testing their applications on various classes of HPC hardware and determining the best fit in terms of performance, time and cost.

“Merle is truly a great mentor,” says Jackson.  “We appreciate the opportunity to provide NCSA with technology enablers and being part of these initiatives that help increase the competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing base.”  

For the some 300,000 SMMs in America with fewer than 500 employees – companies that are responsible for twice as much employment as all the bigger manufacturers combined and 65 percent of all research and development in the sector – the growing accessibility to HPC is good news indeed.

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