What is HPC?

The dramatic pace of High Performance Computing has revolutionized the sciences, forever changing the ways in which researchers work in their respective fields.

The advantage gained by complementing real world science with HPC resources is immense, allowing new insight and perspective that would be too costly, dangerous or impossible without it. For more information about how you can apply HPC to your research, click here.

High Performance Computing (HPC) is the use of parallel clustered supercomputers. A supercomputer is any computer system that is, at the time of its introduction, among the highest available for any processing capacity, but particularly, speed of calculation.

Clustered computing is when two or more computers serve a single resource. This improves performance and provides redundancy in case of system failure.

Parallel computing refers to the submission of jobs or processes over one or more processors and by splitting up the task between them.

By way of analogy, consider a horse and cart as computer system and the load as the computing tasks. If one wants to move a greater load there are essentially three options:

  • Re-arrange the load so it is more efficiently arranged. This is analogous to improving the computer code. It can help, and help significantly, but it is ultimately limited.
  • Purchase a bigger cart and a bigger horse to move the load. This is analogous to purchasing a bigger computer and acquiring better software. In computing, this rapidly leads to decreasing returns.
  • Distribute the load among several carts and horses, managed by a team master. This is analogous to parallel processing in a cluster. It is the most cost-efficient and most scalable method.

At VPAC, we believe the best operating system technology for high performance, clustered systems and parallel computing is a UNIX-like operating system such as GNU/Linux. The reasons for this are manifold.

  • Firstly, GNU/Linux scales and does so with stability and efficiency.
  • Secondly, critical software such as the Message Parsing Interface (MPI) and nearly all scientific programs are designed to work with GNU/Linux.
  • Thirdly, the operating system and many applications are provided as "free and open source", which means that not only are there financial savings, we are also much better placed to improve, optimise and maintain specific programs.
VPAC is also vendor-neutral, meaning that we use the best technology for the job.

These reasons correlate with actual application in the real world. In November 2007, of the Top 500 Supercomputers worldwide, only about 1% did not use a "UNIX-like" operating system and nearly all use an operating system that is entirely "free and open source" (a small percentage use a combination of free and proprietary systems).

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