HPC

Microsoft’s Full Stack Approach To Quantum Computing

Until now, computer advances have been incremental

Faster processors, extra RAM capabilities, and larger disk drives represent the main ways computers have evolved since they were first invented. However, as Moore’s Law reaches its full capabilities, a new technology is set to change how things compute forever: Quantum computing. Progress has been slow, but potential quantum computing architectures are being developed at a rapid pace, and experts predict the first quantum computers are close to reality.

Typical processors use binary mathematics and storage to process data at an extraordinary pace. Aside from experimental trinary computers, binary operations have been the only technology used to power computers until now. Quantum computing is different because it doesn’t rely on eschewing bits, which represent 0 or 1. Instead, so-called “qubits,” represent a superimposition of two states simultaneously. When operational, quantum computers will be able to solve certain computationally challenging tasks in a single step. Most current forms of computer encryption, for example, will be trivial to break once quantum computers are online. Advances in other fields like genomics, weather simulation and AI will be rapid as well, and the technology has the potential to run massive simulations and other tasks not feasible with binary computing. Microsoft UK’s Senior Director of Commercial Product Software Engineering believes quantum computing has the potential to solve some of the biggest challenges facing the world today.

If you think about global warming and drug discovery and new medicines, there are computational things needed to solve those problems which are beyond what we have with classical IT at the moment. Because quantum computing offers us a chance to solve those problems, it’s something we’re really interested in.

We recently caught up with him at their annual Future Decoded conference. Watch the first part of our interview above.

Playing the Long Game

Microsoft has long been a powerful force in programming. Altair Basic, an early Microsoft project, let early developers write code for the first personal computer: The Altair 8800. Microsoft’s programming tools, including Visual Studio, have been among the most popular tools for writing programs for Microsoft’s operating system and other platforms.

Microsoft have been investing in quantum computing research projects for over a decade. The company recently revealed their intention to take a full stack approach to the phenomenon and showcased progress it has made toward developing both a topological qubit and the ecosystem of hardware and software that will enable developers to harness the power of quantum computing. This includes launching an entirely new topological quantum computing language aimed at making the power of qubits accessible to developers.

Microsoft’s new programming language is designed to function in Visual Studio itself, and this early demonstration work aims to provide a seamless transition once quantum computers come to market. The familiar interface will help ease the burden of switching to the new type of thinking quantum computing requires. The new programming protocol provides a means of programming quantum computers without writing machine-specific code. Although the language currently lacks a name, it provides a comprehensive set of programming instructions that can power proposed type of quantum computer, even though such machines don’t yet exist.

As Rob explains in the second part of our interview, this lack of available technology has forced Microsoft to build its own.

Most programmers will find the new language to look somewhat familiar. The C-style design looks much like other popular programming languages, including C itself, C++, Java, and C#. However, new keywords riddle the sample code: Developers looking to take advantage of quantum computing will have to learn terms including “msqQ” and “SetQubit”. However, familiar IDE elements including colour coding, debugging, and code folding already have some support.

The programming language has little practical use now; it can run quantum computing simulations, but only at a slow speed. However, the early release does provide a glimpse of the future, and the language can serve as an educational tool to prep developers for the release of quantum computers. Microsoft promise the code in the simulations will be same when quantum compute power reaches Azure.  Once named, Microsoft’s new language might become the de facto means through which people think about and study quantum computing.

In addition to the new coding language, the company are developing their own infrastructure hardware to meet the demands of tomorrow’s quantum developers. Microsoft will release a free preview by the end of the year including a full suite of libraries and tutorials to enable developers to get started with ease.

How Do You Get ROI From Energy-Hungry HPC?

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Want to ensure a return from your power-intense High Performance Computing? Do it in Iceland

Cross industry enterprise HPC adoption is on the rise – all from reducing and cost cutting R&D processes, prototype testing and complex calculations – there are more reasons to take advantage of this products than not. In fact, businesses that have experienced the edge of massive compute repeatedly report that this adoption is now an essential part of their success.

Thorsteinn Gunnarson, CEO of Opin Kerfi in Iceland, explained to us why exactly companies decide to invest in their own HPC environments or consume HPC as a Service and what impact it has on their ROI. For example, a well-known auto manufacturer with their HPC cluster in Iceland today build a new prototype every two weeks – dramatically shortening their time to market and putting them at a tremendous competitive advantage.

Thorsteinn also adds how only the power and agility of High Performance Computing can enable us to cope and make sense out of data, real-time information and create business value in retail, public sector and improve everyday life especially in cities, powered by IoT through smart apps and real-time analytics and solutions – such as parking house availability updates and traffic alerts. HPC also makes real-time promotions possible through bringing understanding of individual buying behavior and preferences.

The two outstanding factors, however, are the cost- and time cutting which the conversation comes back to – and indeed – these are the two most pressing issues for any business cross-industry.

Opin Kerfi‘s proposition in HPC lies in the combination of processing power and a strategic, sustainable location. Operating own equipment or consuming as a Service from Opin Kerfi means dramatic cost reduction compared to an equivalent product elsewhere, as the energy is sourced from completely sustainable, natural sources – guaranteeing lowest price possible and together with free cooling of the datacenter this brings the running outlay down to a minimum.

The power-demanding technology is not a problem in Iceland – with energy accessibility, top-class security and optimal climate for just these pursuits, high performance computing thrives with Opin Kerfi. Not to forget, Iceland’s population and business environment boast a welcoming profile for datacenter and HPC establishments with relevant expertise access and high education per capita.

Listen to our chat with Mr Gunnarson below or on  Apple Podcasts.


Opin Kerfi are partners of Cloud28+, the open community of over 600 innovative technology businesses, built to accelerate cloud adoption and digital transformation around the globe. It has members located across North America, EMEA, Latin America and Asia. Join free or find out more here.

Using HPCaaS For Your Next Breakthrough Fearlessly – The Options Are Limited

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Massive compute, as a service, at the lowest price possible for you and the environment. Sounds too good to be true? Hosted in a military-safe location, hosting your HPC in Iceland is a no-brainer. Let’s analyse why you would need HPC in the first place, and where the Return in Investment is Highest.

It is no longer an argument, but purely facts that the way information technology is used is, in fact, the deciding factor to business success in any industry.

With the compute power available, we can find problem solutions earlier impossible – however, these cannot be solved with a standard workstation in a reasonable amount of time. Using dedicated high-end hardware with incredible speed, prototypes are built and tested virtually using algorithms and calculations simultaneously processed. This has led to exceptionally leaner R&D processes and accelerated time to market in e.g. the automotive and manufacturing industry. Instead of testing prototypes from the beginning, high-performance computing enables filtering of all the prototypes and suggested models to be tested using sophisticated compute and software, to later drill down to the best performing models to be physically produced and tested. In the tyre industry, to bring another example, thread tear is now no longer a physical test over months but a calculation possible and accurate with the use of massive compute. Goodyear boasts the improvement and performance of their all-season tyres due their large HPC investment, reducing the R&D budget from 40% to 15%.

Beyond the traditional industries, HPC now enables AI to go so far as to create its own solutions and surpass human intelligence in the complexity of poker by creating its own strategy, only because the compute power is available.

A myriad of industries have discovered and are still discovering the power of HPC and how it can not only solve product development problems but also sharpen their market intelligence and competitive edge. As a matter of fact, 97% of businesses that have adopted HPC in some way claim they would not be able to survive without it. Not only does it seem like an insightful pursuit, but pretty lucrative, too: IDC estimates that for every $43 spent on HPC, users can generate $515 in revenue. Interestingly enough, marketing intelligence agencies are taking off using HPC to process and make sense out of the data created by the use of devices at present, which creates understanding of consumer behaviour and preferences in a whole new way.

Using HPCaaS For Your Next Breakthrough Fearlessly  - The Options Are Limited TechNative

As businesses face the digital-native generation, only HPC has the power to not only understand big data and behaviour, but also develop apps and services that the target audience assumes to be simple and seamless.
If you, as a reader, have been surprised by the accuracy of intelligent predictions when shopping online or found great satisfaction in the simplicity of your banking app, chances are that the service providers invested in high-performance computing platforms and necessary software to make this happen.

There are different opinions on whether data is the new oil, as the amount and complexity of data that is produced is ahead of the apps that interpret it. However, it is evident that the digital-native generation is impatient when testing new products and quick to condemn the source organisation even encountering the smallest flaw – to minimise these risks, massive compute needs to be running for product development as well as live for flexibility and agility of the experience.

Having explained the unprecedented value of HPC for any industry, another question inevitably arises: how much needs to be invested in such solutions? What is the long-term use of these, and how to keep up with this technology becoming more advanced?

To meet the needs of various customers, HPC as a Service emerged, meeting the compute demand for sporadic tasks and time-bound projects, as opposed to having costly hardware gathering dust in between uses. It makes sense for a moving firm to buy a van to perform tasks, but very few families invested in their own van for this purpose and let it wait until the next big move. In the same way, HPCaaS is simply brilliant. The resource is there for as long as you need, the price reflecting a service and not a legacy of hardware.

What is there not to like? In the past few years a number of service providers have created an HPCaaS market. Though the price might be attractive, another – less visible – cost dominates the business landscape as a whole.  For supercomputers (or servers as a whole) most of the running cost goes into cooling the machines as they consume energy and generate astounding amounts of heat. This makes datacenter locations a strategic factor for service-providers as colder weather conditions bring down the costs for both sides. Additionally, as CO2 neutrality is about to become a business imperative, it is essential when choosing an HPCaaS service-provider to ensure sustainable energy sourcing. After all, no one wants surprisingly high expenses and the need to change contracts compromising business continuity.

Where can best Return on Investment for HPC be found?

IT is, at the end of the day, an expense – with massive compute being an even higher one.
When it comes to the investment part, most prefer an independent opinion. With the clear picture of HPC being an opportunity to break through, on-demand model available and sustainability/carbon-neutrality as an upcoming legislation, it seems like the options are quite limited – especially as no budget is limitless even for such a lucrative pursuit.
Analysts such as IDC, PWC and Cushman&Wakefield agree: Iceland stands as if created to be a place to host energy-demanding, heat-producing machines with the low fluctuations in temperature and cool climate. The best factor, however, is that this brings costs down for the company in question compared to HPC environments hosted or consumed from elsewhere. Especially high-performance computing is relevant, as this is a growing model for success.

Highly industrialised countries in Europe offer very little energy surplus, and are a poor prospect for expansion of datacenters for an affordable price. Iceland, on the other hand, proudly sources 100% of their electricity from water and geothermal energy. Combined with a highly reliable energy grid and top-performance connection to Europe and North America (both of which have capacity to carry much more than today), Iceland’s profile distinguishes from other popular locations.

Using HPCaaS For Your Next Breakthrough Fearlessly  - The Options Are Limited TechNative

Expansion without limitations: forget the uncertain availability and fluctuating prices of unsustainable energy and unexpected carbon tax bills.
While enterprises face uncertainty, especially as datacenters or services increase in importance for e.g. service and product delivery, hosting and consuming from Iceland-based datacenters puts you ahead of the present and forthcoming constraints especially if you are based in Europe. Future-proof your investment now and skip the disruption of changing IT-service provider or carbon tax bills. Forward-thinking this way puts you in a different gear, focusing on development and growth rather than reactive protection of your business operations

Fascinating outcomes have been witnessed by using HPCaaS and/or dedicated HPC for innovation and product development: faster time to market as prototypes are tested virtually, cost-savings through understanding energy-efficiency of engines through algorhytms and calculations as opposed to physical trials. The opportunities are as many as your latest ideas, free to become reality.

Institutions hosting their HPC whether as-a-service or a permanent environment already reap the outcome of this decision – delighted by the results, truly optimising their business with no limits in mind.

Opin Kerfi’s HPCaaS offering is proudly sustainable and, consequently, highly economical, guaranteeing business continuity with forthcoming CO2 neutrality legislation. The cost- and technology barrier is longer an issue, meaning enterprises can expand and innovate fearlessly.


Opin Kerfi are partners of Cloud28+, the open community of over 600 IT companies and research institutions, built to accelerate cloud adoption and digital transformation around the globe. It has members located across North America, EMEA, Latin America and Asia. Join free or find out more here.

How Do You Prepare A Supercomputer For Space Travel?

International Space Station and astronaut.

A new experiment by Hewlett Packard Enterprise & NASA hopes to prove off-the-shelf HPCs are space-ready

The first components of the International Space Station first launched in 1998, and the station has transformed radically since that time, gaining new components and replacing outdated equipment. Computers have always placed a significant role on the ship, and NASA has decided it’s time for something new: The first supercomputer in space designed with commercial off-the-shelf equipment, designed by Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

Terrestrial vs Extraterrestrial Computers

Spaceflight represents the cutting edge of technology. However, the computers used in spacecraft are often fairly primitive, sometimes a generation or two behind the latest models on earth. This is because any computer sent into space has to go through a hardening process. Space computers need to handle the rigors of space travel, including radiation that can damage circuits and other critical components. They also need to survive launches, which can be harsh. The term “hardening” refers to ensuring computer components can operate reliably.

Hardening

The ISS’s supercomputer will be hardened in a new manner: Through software. Historically, computers have been hardened through novel insulation methods and, most importantly, through redundant circuits. Realizing that modern off-the-shelf hardware is already somewhat hardened, HPE investigated using software to slow down operations when adverse conditions are detected, which will prevent glitches related to solar flares and other radiation. This approach has the potential to change how computers in space are used by cutting costs and development time.

Hardening can “take years” says  HPE’s Dr. Mark R. Fernandez, the mission’s co-principal investigator for software and HPC technology officer.

Since you will be sending up into space 2 or 3 or possibly older technology, so by the time it would take a year to get to Mars and the multiple years it would be there, then the years to return you could be using really antiquated equipment

We spoke to Dr Fernandez in depth about the mission, its tests and hazards. Listen to the podcast below or on Apple Podcasts.

Compute in Space

The ISS’s first supercomputer follows a long history of computers used in space. Perhaps the most famous example is the Apollo Guidance Computer, used for navigation and to guide and control spacecraft. The computer was advanced for its time; its 2.048 MHz processor could crunch plenty of numbers for spaceflight, and its 16-bit word length was advanced. However, the computer weighed nearly 70 pounds, and its performance would be eclipsed by the first generation of personal computers released only a decade later.

How Do You Prepare A Supercomputer For Space Travel? TechNative
The ISS (Image: NASA)

A New Standard in Power

Running off of HPE’s Apollo 40 two-socket servers, the ISS’s new computer will be powered by Intel Broadwell processors. Combined, its processors will provide more than 1 teraflops of power, placing it firmly within the supercomputer category. While the teraflop barrier was first broken on earth in 1997, HPE’s computer takes up far less space and uses significantly less power; the first computer to break the teraflop barrier relied on more than 7,000 nodes, while HPE’s extraterrestrial computer relies on only two and takes up just a quarter of a rack compared to 104 cabinets.

Overcoming Challenges

In addition to ensuring components are properly hardened for space, HPE had to work with NASA to overcome several challenges. While the space station uses solar-powered 48-volt DC power, the off-the-shelf computing components used require 110-volts of AC power. An inverter supplied by NASA filled this gap. Even more challenging was cooling, as typical server fans aren’t appropriate for use on the space station, and expert engineering was needed to adapt standard server equipment to the space station’s unique water cooling system. Of course, computer engineers won’t be aboard to install the computer, so it had to ship with detailed instructions for installation and maintenance to be performed by non-experts.

A Worthwhile Experiment

Although having a supercomputer is always useful, the ISS doesn’t need it to function. However, the data collected while the supercomputer remains onboard will help determine if new hardening techniques are appropriate for long-term use. Furthermore, knowledge learned can help improve Linux, which powers nearly all of the world’s supercomputers and a strong majority of web servers. Hardened computers aren’t only needed for space, as military and nuclear uses require hardening as well. As with all research, it’s difficult to predict the outcome, but being able to harden off-the-shelf devices through software can have a profound impact in a range of fields.