Intel® Xeon® Phi™ coprocessors accelerate the pace of discovery and innovation

Discovery and the supercomputers behind discoveries are fascinating to me. I remember visiting NASA’s central computing facility for the first time and seeing their Cray supercomputer. I was amazed at the sheer number of wires needed to connect the systems, the cool cooling innovation (no pun intended) and even the sleek cabinets. Everything about it was just so much more grand than the little workstation on my desk. Moreover, when they told me what kinds of applications they were running and the discoveries they were making, I was in awe. And I was also .. in love. With Supercomputers. 

Innovation drives productivity and is the foundation of economic growth. For the past 25 or so years, both research and innovation has been driven by massive amounts of computing power in the form of personal workstations and clusters of servers called supercomputers. It’s allowed scientists to unravel the mysteries of the human genome, driving the economics of sequencing down to the level where you can now affordably get your own genome sequenced. On a broader scale, it’s allowed countless engineers to use digital prototyping, shaving cost and time-to-market of products in virtually every industry. Looking to the future, with the continuum of “data-information-knowledge” becoming an essential tool for digitally enabled knowledge economies around the world, the applications and need for supercomputing makes the past look the proverbial tip of the iceberg. 

Today, with the announcement of Intel® Xeon® Phi™ coprocessors, we’re going to accelerate the pace of these discoveries and innovations. Intel® Xeon Phi products extend the Intel® Xeon® brand – found in over 70% of the world’s supercomputers (see TOP500) – by providing the programmability of the Intel Xeon processor architecture to an emerging class of highly parallel applications that benefit from processors containing a large number of cores and threads. Lots of technical talk there, but let me put this into human terms. While the vast majority of software applications are best suited to Intel® Xeon® processors, these highly parallel applications benefit from a bunch of mathematical calculations performed at once. For example, if you’re trying to accurately track a weather storm, the more accurately you can predict the movement of each molecule of the storm in relation to every other molecule, the more accurate the prediction. This is what we call a “highly parallel application”. 

For the past 2 years we’ve been working with software developers from leading research institutes and private companies around the world on early silicon of Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors to accelerate their highly parallel applications. As I look at the type of research they conduct, it stirs the imagination and makes we wonder “What if?” What if these institutes and companies had 1000x the computer power they do today? What could they do with that amount of computing power? Could scientists at the DEEP Exascale project in Europe, who work on brain simulation, find a breakthrough discovery that cures Alzheimer’s Disease? Could Fraunhofer Institute researchers – who are doing full, high-definition, photo realistic rendering of objects – make physical prototyping obsolete? Could the cellular research that the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) conducts lead to sustainable food production that’s free of disease? These breakthroughs are inevitable. Our mission is to deliver the computing power to make them happen faster.  

Last November, we demonstrated our first silicon of the Intel Xeon Phi coprocessor, code named “Knights Corner”. It produced an astounding teraflop of performance in a processor the size of your thumb, setting the industry on notice of the potential of many core architectures and providing a clear path of how we’ll get to the Petascale and Exascale era. This is the same amount of performance as the number 1 supercomputer on the TOP500 list in 1997, dubbed ASCI Red. ASCI Red used thousands of processors and filled a room with cabinets to produce the same amount of performance. Knights Corner quickly got the nickname of “Supercomputer on a Chip”. 

But any computer is tool. And a tool is useless unless the user can knows how to use it and the millions of lines of software code that institutes and companies have developed over the past 25+ years run on it. That’s the programmability aspect of the Intel Xeon Phi product family. It’s Intel Architecture. The codes that run on Intel Xeon processors today will run on Intel Xeon Phi products, carrying forward years of software development. 

At the International Supercomputing Conference kicking off today in Hamburg, Germany, the first supercomputer with the Intel Xeon Phi coprocessor made the TOP500 list. It’s aptly named “Discovery”. And we’ll be in production with Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors later this year. As we move into 2013 and beyond, we’ll see it in the hands of researchers, scientists, and engineers around the world. And the pace of discovery and innovation will be greatly accelerated.

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