Publications / SAND Report

Performance Efficiency and Effectivness of Supercomputers

Leland, Robert; Rajan, Mahesh R.; Heroux, Michael A.

Our first purpose here is to offer to a general technical and policy audience a perspective on whether the supercomputing community should focus on improving the efficiency of supercomputing systems and their use rather than on building larger and ostensibly more capable systems that are used at low efficiency. After first summarizing our content and defining some necessary terms, we give a concise answer to this question. We then set this in context by characterizing performance of current supercomputing systems on a variety of benchmark problems and actual problems drawn from workloads in the national security, industrial, and scientific context. Along the way we answer some related questions, identify some important technological trends, and offer a perspective on the significance of these trends. Our second purpose is to give a reasonably broad and transparent overview of the related issue space and thereby to better equip the reader to evaluate commentary and controversy concerning supercomputing performance. For example, questions repeatedly arise concerning the Linpack benchmark and its predictive power, so we consider this in moderate depth as an example. We also characterize benchmark and application performance for scientific and engineering use of supercomputers and offer some guidance on how to think about these. Examples here are drawn from traditional scientific computing. Other problem domains, for example, data analytics, have different performance characteristics that are better captured by different benchmark problems or applications, but the story in those domains is similar in character and leads to similar conclusions with regard to the motivating question. For more on this topic, see Large-Scale Data Analytics and Its Relationship to Simulation. 1 Director, Computing Research Center, Sandia National Laboratories 2 Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories 3 Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories 4 Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff , Sandia National Laboratories