alcesflight logo horz text
Merry Christmas

Alces Flight 2021 HPC Year in Review

If 2020 was the year of natural disasters, then 2021 was the year of the clean-up. Faced with constantly changing priorities and uncertainty it would have been easy for the research computing community to hide from making major decisions. Instead, those working in High Performance Computing did anything but. As the calendar draws closer to 2022 we take a look at the three major supercomputing themes that gained focus in 2021: ethics, inclusivity, and green HPC growth.

2021 sparked the conversation for how we can deliver HPC ethically.

As we are starting to see AI/ML mature alongside and occasionally intwine with HPC practices a new debate around ethics has emerged. With 2020 headlines showcasing the power of HPC, and studies into rapid diagnosis and treatment of illnesses such as COVID-19 leaning heavily into compute power, questions around data collection and data interrogation have become hot topics throughout 2021.

Reassuringly, HPC ethics groups have existed for some time and the volunteers leading them are ready to dive deep into the tough questions surrounding the collection and use of data in supercomputing. For example, at the November SC’21 conference there was not one, but two sessions that tackled the ethics question from different angles.

Ethics in HPC can also mean more than the technical nuances of our field. Sitting alongside this conversation are two other areas that had a lot of light shined upon them in 2021 — inclusion and green HPC.

2021 exposed inclusivity challenges in HPC — but also offered up some creative solutions.

Similar to other sections of the IT industry HPC is, by historical nature, a field dominated mostly by men. Other issues, such as the ability to teach HPC at larger scales, or being able to allocate supercomputing capacity and resources (hindered even more by shipping and manufacturing delays), and the need to fully understand the data being processed also play a part in holding people back from pursuing HPC. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.

If anything, 2021 was the opportunity for non-traditional HPC fields to share centre stage and demonstrate what the future of supercomputing could be. From teaching clinicians and medical students about the potential of HPC, to collaborations and projects in the Digital Humanities, to multi disciplinary exploration of our past — we are seeing a host of individuals from varying backgrounds entering the field with new ideas and perspectives.

It is from this that new job types and ways of working are emerging. From Research Software Engineering (RSE) roles to how we look after HPC cluster environments — new skills sets are blending in with traditional HPC skill sets to take supercomputing forward. And with it, the hope for a more inclusive and equitable field of work and study for everyone.

2021 set the foundations in place for a ‘Green HPC’ revolution.

Even though the Green500 is nearing its 10th birthday up until recently this Top 500 list took a backseat to the projects aimed at performance and capability. 2021 ushered in serious conversations around what makes up ‘Green HPC,’ primarily due to consumers of supercomputing picking up on the growth of HPC scale and complexity required to tackle incoming problems, as well as the arrival of exascale systems.

In order to provide services that meet and exceed the requirements of incoming projects focused on HPC, AI and ML, understanding energy consumption is now no longer just an interesting anecdote. Instead, many data centres and on-site hosting facilities are required to report just how much power and cooling are passing through its racks, and how this power was generated.

Thanks to this change we are now seeing the arrival of managed HPC solutions that are targeted on capacity, budget, and power consumption. Solutions have broadened scope to work across platforms in order to make intelligent use of resources and many systems are welcoming complete audits of their past work in order to build a greener future. Increasingly, data-centre facilities now have choice over how and where their power is generated — end-user demand for cleaner power is allowing hosting companies to make greener choices in order to win their business. In short, many incoming systems will have greener requirements around their use, with new technologies growing rapidly to satisfy them — all centred around solving HPC problems and not creating environmental ones in their wake.

So what’s next for 2022?

At Alces we are continuing to focus on making HPC more open and accessible. Whether through our open-source work, building hybrid systems that focus on optimum resource usage, or our continued support for an equitable HPC community. We hope 2022 brings everyone in supercomputing the opportunity for growth, whether that be in technical knowledge, user skills, or community engagement. If you have any ideas you want to discuss with us don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Wait, there’s more...

Discover our other blog posts