What’s a nice core like ARM® doing in a place like this?

IEEE held their annual fest for uber-techies at SuperComputing ’12 this week in Salt Lake City.  With over 8000 attendees flocking to the snowy site in spite of the economy and impending fiscal cliff, this event has become a mecca for anyone seeking the next great technology in computing hardware for serious work.  In the old days, it was all about (Tera)Flops and Fortran.  These days it is about Big Data, hardware acceleration, interconnect fabrics, storage, and green computing.  Wandering around in the massive exhibit hall, one could see name badges from companies like eBay,  Amazon, Peer One Hosting, and Dreamworks, right alongside the traditional attendees from leading universities, National Labs, and the Departments of Defense and Energy.

So, what’s a little core like ARM doing in a place like this? Its all about the data. “Data Intensive Computing” in HPC is pronounced “Big Data” in the enterprise.   And the two communities have another thing in common: both are seeking more energy efficient solutions to large computations challenges. So naturally, they are turning to ARM with great hopes for the future.

While the ARM cores do not provide tremendous computational horsepower today, Calxeda’s massive fabric and performance roadmap show a lot of promise as the industry prepares for the age of “Exascale” computing (1,000 petaflops).   Of course most HPC applications will require more floating point performance than the roughly 3 Gigaflops of an A9, or perhaps 6-10 GFlops of an A15, as well as 64-bit addressing.  However there are workloads such as Big Data processing and genomic analysis which can be effectively hosted on ARM today.

Calxeda’s booth at SC’12 was crammed with working systems from 4 partners

Calxeda had a small booth with lots of hardware from Boston Ltd, HP, Penguin Computing, and Scalable Fabric Works, purring quietly and producing almost no heat, of course.  There was a constant throng of traffic from attendees from around the world coming to see for themselves the promise that ARM holds:  a 24 node server, with 24 SSD, consuming only 160 watts under load.  The power meter helped convince the incredulous that this was no joke, but demonstrated a true breakthrough in power efficiency.  (Oh, and of course we had very cool t-shirts to give away!)

In addition to the many Calxeda-based systems and projects, Barcelona Supercomputing center issued a press release announcing that their next generation green supercomputer (Mont Blanc) is being built using mobile parts from Samsung (dual core A15 with Mali GPUs.  Although this part was not designed for servers,  this is an early example of  how the ARM ecosystem can tailor SOCs for specific applications and is a peak into the future of Supercomputing.

So, while this little core stands humbly at the entrance to the world of massive computing challenges, the neighborhood is welcoming ARM with open, well ,… arms.

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