Forum to create standard performance tests for supercomputers

By Jennifer DiSabatino, Computer World |  Development

A plan for testing supercomputers was proposed today by an organization of supercomputer users. The goal is to let scientific researchers, engineers and government workers who depend on them know what they're getting when they buy into a top-notch system.

Addressing the SC2000 supercomputing conference in Dallas, officials from the High-Performance Computing (HPC) Users Forum reported progress on a plan to create better performance tests for the most powerful class of computers. The forum represents leading supercomputer users in government, industry and academia.

Forum officials said improved tests are needed to advance scientific research, industrial engineering and classified government work, all of which rely heavily on supercomputers. The HPC User Forum is organized by International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass., on behalf of HPC users. IDC is a subsidiary of International Data Group, the parent company of Computerworld.

Users leery about buying into such a system will have another option now as well.

Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) in El Segundo, Calif., today announced a new service that would rent out high-performance computing services.

That service, e-HPC.com, is an addition to the company's IT and e-business services. E-HPC.com is a multiplatform, pay-per-use service supplying access to HPC platforms via the Internet. Access is provided through CSC's Web portal.

In anthor development, Cray Inc. announced its Cray SV1ex supercomputer product line.

Regardless of where they get the supercomputers, standards are necessary for companies and government agencies to understand exactly what these tools can do for them.

"Despite the strategic and economic importance of supercomputers, or HPC systems, there is no widely accepted standard for evaluating their performance today," said Debra Goldfarb, IDC group vice president, Worldwide Systems and Servers. "It is not uncommon for user organizations to find that the actual performance of a new, multimillion-dollar supercomputer is a small fraction of the stellar results produced on today's limited tests. Although these Linpack and peak performance test scores are nearly meaningless beyond 'chest-thumping' publicity, in the absence of anything better they continue to be emphasized in many procurements."

Robert Lucas, head of HPC Research at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Research Computing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., is leading the team developing a new benchmark suite to test the overall scalable performance of HPC systems and an additional benchmark initiative to test performance on a broad range of specific application codes. At a mid-September meeting, HPC User Forum members endorsed the preliminary plan outlined by Lucas.

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