An Introduction to High Performance Computing

About NTNU's High Performance Computing (HPC) Group

Responsible for NTNU's and Norway's HPC resources

Main activities: * Procurement and maintenance of NTNU's and Norway's HPC infrastructure * Scientific computing and researcher support * HPC research * ...

We play with the largest, fastest, newest ("state-of-the-art"), and most expensive machines in Norway.

What is High Performance Computing?

High Performance Computing most generally refers to the practice of aggregating computing power in a way that delivers much higher performance than one could get out of a typical desktop computer or workstation in order to solve large problems in science, engineering, or business. 1

Or as I would put it: Connect individual computers such that we can use them together to solve compute-intensive problems.

What exactly does this mean?

Modern Computers

Main components of a computer:

  1. Processor with a number of cores
  2. Main memory
  3. Graphic Processing Units (GPUs)

Solving a Scientific Problem

Problem: I want to model the flow of water passing a wedge using a Lattice-Boltzmann Method.

LBM consists of a series of time steps, where each time step is composed from two kernel functions: collision and streaming.


Each point has a distribution of densities in six directions, and the collision phase relaxes these densities towards equilibrium.


Propagates the densities to the six neighbors of a point.

First attempt

All right, physics tells us that Moffatt vortices will form in the wedge. We use 256 x 256 grid and perform 10000 iterations in total. This took us 77.5 seconds. However, of our 4 cores, we are only utilizing a single core.

Second attempt

Ah, that is better. We utilize all four cores of our machine now. It took us 27.4 seconds to solve the same problem. However, I still believe that this takes too long.

Third attempt

Great, now we can solve our problem in 8.1 seconds.

...and if we push a little bit more

Pipe with wedge (1000 x 1000 grid):

Cylindrical obstruction (1500 x 1000 grid):

1 core: 11:04:10

112 cores (4 nodes with 28 cores each): 00:07:46

How does it scale?

Take-away points

  1. A lot of problems are so computationally expensive that we need multiple machines to obtain results in reasonable time.
  2. The problem is divided between the machines, and each machine solves a sub-problem by performing the necessary computations and communicating with the other machines.
  3. Only software with a sufficiently parallelizable part is suitable.

European HPC Pyramid

  • Private computers: 1 node, 4 - 20 cores, 1 GPU, 50 kNOK
  • Regional facilities: 10 - 250 nodes, 100 - 10000 cores, 100s of GPUs, 1 - 50 MNOK
  • National facilities (Betzy): 1344 nodes, 172032 cores, 0 GPUs, 100 MNOK hardware, 70-100 MNOK running costs during lifetime
  • Continental facilities: ? nodes, ? cores, 90% GPUs, 1 BNOK running costs during lifetime