Blue Collar Computing Concept Sparks Imagination of Supercomputing Industry Insiders

Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) Executive Director Stan Ahalt’s Blue Collar Computing speech on high performance computing (HPC) for industry and research applications received enthusiastic support at the SC2004 conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., last week.

As more than 1,000 international audience members listened, Ahalt explained that HPC has reached a critical juncture as economic forces continue to shape its market segment.

Ahalt argued that a fundamental shift in the HPC market -- the addition of Blue Collar Computing -- needs to take place to revitalize its leadership in computational science, engineering and product design.

“Dr. Ahalt made a compelling case that there is a substantial market for high performance computing that is largely unmet. If we can reach these potential users, industry and the country can realize enormous gains in productivity and competitiveness,” said Suzy Tichenor, Council on Competitiveness Vice President and High Productivity Computing Project Director.

HPC’s advantages to science and engineering, according to Ahalt, have not transferred to many of the industries that would benefit dramatically from an infusion of computation. Rarely discussed is how engineering design or manufacturing might use HPC to produce radically improved products. These are areas in which HPC usage as a competitive tool can help create new markets, new opportunities, and new jobs.

Several barriers in industry must be removed for industry to effectively use HPC. These barriers include an adequately trained workforce, limited exposure to HPC solutions, and a focus in the supercomputing community on “Grand Challenge” problems instead of commercial problems.

"OSC is targeting an important need in the marketplace for high performance computing across a wide range of industries that traditionally do not have the expertise or resources to implement such systems, but do have significant compute needs to solve complex problems," said Colin Hunter, Chief Executive Officer, Orion Multisystems.

The lack of truly useful HPC tools is the biggest barrier to widespread industrial HPC use. While HPC hardware and software are hard to use, HPC software companies have little reason to forge new tools and utilities.

Ahalt claimed, “Hard to use means hardly used, at least in the broader community.”

The goal of Blue Collar Computing is to move everyday research, science, and engineering tasks from the desktops onto everyday HPC platforms, and drive the use of parallel computing into the computing mainstream.

Ahalt urged the HPC community work together to form a public/private partnership to develop the most pressing elements of Blue Collar Computing. The next steps include focusing on implementating high productivity languages and radically changing computer science education. The benefits reaped from Blue Collar Computing will result in a full-spectrum surge of innovation and scientific advancement.

“Response from top industry and research experts has been overwhelming,” said Ahalt. “This speech has evidently touched a nerve in the supercomputing community that measurements need to be put in place to positively impact HPC’s landscape.”