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Big guns for hire: Supercomputing-in-the-cloud

Todd R. Weiss | July 14, 2010
Some companies are slashing costs and improving production by using on-demand high-performance computing services

"We have been helping with building economic development in Ohio, giving businesses from large to small access to supercomputing," says Ashok Krishnamurthy, the interim co-director of the center, which is based in Columbus. More than 25 businesses have directly participated in OSC's Blue Collar Computing program, which provides supercomputing power to companies that typically hadn't considered using it previously. More than 250 smaller companies have also used the services by accessing them through related organizations such as the Edison Welding Institute (EWI), he says.

Welding gains from HPC analysis, too

EWI, a member organization for companies that do welding, works with the OSC to allow member companies to log into a Web portal, the E-Weld Predictor, to simulate complex welds using supercomputers before doing the actual welding work, Krishnamurthy says. "This simulates a whole bunch of prototypes to cut down the time it takes to create a welding process from six months to two weeks."

"This is huge, because it reduces the time it takes to get new welding procedures in place," says Chris Conrardy, chief technology officer and vice president of technology and innovation at EWI. "It lets you optimize the weld and reduce the risks of bad welds."

What's really novel about this, Conrardy explains, is that the welding process is not linear. "It has lots of variables and historically has been difficult to model on computers. All sorts of things can happen to the properties of the materials depending on how you apply the heat," he says. And for particularly critical applications -- a pipeline, say, or a pressurized vessel -- "folks can spend an awful lot of time and money figuring out how to weld those things."

Typical workstations couldn't handle all of the calculations that are involved in this process, he says.

The E-Weld Predictor allows a user to enter the specifics of the materials to be joined, the dimensions and other needed details. After a few minutes, the system generates a PDF document with details about how the joining can be accomplished successfully, he says. "It's basically a report with predictions and procedures and results for the weld. It's something that we think is going to be increasingly a big deal."

Around 100 EWI member companies used the E-Weld Predictor in its first month, Conrardy says.

The E-Weld Predictor harnesses the OSC's 1,650-node IBM Glenn 1350 supercomputer. The Glenn 1350 runs AMD Opteron multicore processors and IBM cell processors and offers a peak performance of more than 75 TFLOPS, according to OSC.

The assistance provided by OSC can give a smaller company a huge boost a market filled with competitors, Krishnamurthy says. In particular, the time saved by using the supercomputing systems can be key to companies that are competing for contracts or need to manufacture a product as quickly as possible. "Shorter time to market makes a huge difference," he says. "Six months down to two weeks is a big deal."


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