Is It Still HPC If Anyone Can Use It?

High Performance Computing is supposed to be something special. Those magnificent, highly specialized screaming silicon eaters that can bitch-slap a Monte Carlo simulation into submission before breakfast and have a DNA sequencing party for lunch, all without producing one bead of sweat on its brow.

They are not supposed to be commonplace or ordinary. They operate in rarified air and are reserved for the biggest and baddest calculations on the planet and those with the requisite business and scientific challenges to feed their insatiable appetite for complex computation.

If everyone could use these majestic computing machines then would that not make them simply every day, run-of-the-mill computers and not “high performance computers”? It is somewhat analogous to the meteorologists that refer to normal rainfall and temperature based upon data that is long overdue for an update. At some point the bar needs to be reset and the new “average” adjusted accordingly. This is what needs to happen in the HPC world as well.

Maybe we need a new term to replace HPC. Oh wait, we tried that already. “High Productivity Computing”…really? Come on guys, we have enough of a credibility problem without using some dumb cliché that by the way isn’t catching on with anyone! The last guy who tried to use that in a meeting with a client hasn’t been heard from since.

The problem is that everyone wants “high performance” (and productivity) computing. Have you ever heard anyone say they want LPC (low performance or productivity computing)?

No, we here at Acme Corp. prefer our low performance, low productivity machines, thank you. Our cloud computing strategy is to send Maynard up in a hot air balloon with an abacus. According to the company’s CEO, Jethro Bodine, “Ways we figer, he oughts to be done cipher’n the books by ‘coon hunt’n seezun”.  The company plans to migrate to a compute-free work environment by 2014 and Bodine went on to say “we am gonna save a enuf money to git Granny a new set of wood teeth cuz her old wuns smells reel bad.”

In reality, almost every modern-day computer is “HPC capable” relatively speaking. Even laptops have multi-core processors. Just add some parallel-optimized code and voila, HPC in your lap (well sort of), but you get the point. The bar simply needs to be reset.

The term HPC needs to be restored to the level of honor and respect it once had. Just the mention of HPC used to evoke images of semi-mad scientists in lab coats working on complex problems beyond the imagination of mere mortals in computer rooms buried deep in the Cheyenne mountain range. They would emerge only annually to be treated for radiation poisoning and then return to their super-secret computing lair to work on solving the world’s most difficult problems on the biggest, baddest computers on the planet.

This is the domain of High Performance Computing!

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