By Tom Zsolt, PE, Vice President, Platform Computing
When they first came to market, high performance workstations helped eliminate the need for expensive mainframe infrastructure to complete complex manufacturing tasks with computer aided design (CAD), computer aided engineering (CAE) and modeling tools.
They saved time and money, boosted productivity and helped create some of the most innovative products to date.
However, as the underlying hardware has gotten more sophisticated, so has the opportunity for application providers to expand the capabilities of their CAD, CAE and modeling products.
Now, the increasing complexity of current applications is once again slowing productivity. Simulation and modeling cannot be done in parallel; model sizes are growing exponentially; and complex simulations, when parallelized, can exceed eight computational threads and consume hundreds of gigabytes of memory.
That easily outstrips the capacity of a single desk-side workstation — even if it runs overnight.
The challenge for manufacturing engineering managers is to address these challenges without ceding control of computing resources to an already-overworked IT department by returning to the days of centralized, mainframe-style machines dedicated to a single or few specialized tasks.
One way they’re doing this is through the deployment of High Performance Computing (HPC) Clusters.
HPC clusters used to require specialized expertise to design, build and manage. Having benefited from years of development in both hardware and system-management software, most of these HPC clusters now serve as department-level resources, ranging in size from two to 32 nodes (a node is an individual interconnected server).
And because they’re tightly connected, HPC clusters provide benefits that are not available with workstations:
- Clusters can scale. Instead of running simulations on their personal workstations, designers can spread jobs across multiple servers in a cluster.
- Clusters restore individual and group productivity. A cluster can run 24x7, allowing designers to dedicate personal workstations to creating models. And with workload-management software, high-priority jobs can be submitted to the cluster without impacting a designer’s workday efforts.
- Clusters can grow. Today, when a workstation is no longer sufficient to handle, an entirely new workstation must be purchased, installed and configured. However, with an HPC cluster, additional nodes are added as needed. And cluster-management software can automatically configure the new nodes to work seamlessly with the existing cluster.
- Clusters can be highly available. Failed jobs can be restarted automatically. Workload-management software can maintain an inventory of cluster status and distribute jobs only to nodes with available capacity. And simulation jobs can also be “bound” to specific nodes, where specific processors are located.
- Clusters can be shared. Today, designers using different applications on personal workstations cannot share resources. But a cluster’s cluster-management and workload-management software can work in unison to repurpose nodes, with multiple operating systems and applications on-demand.
One of the most common concerns of manufacturing engineering departments implementing clusters for the first time is management.
Manufacturing engineering managers don’t want to have to devote precious resources or bring specialized people on board to design, build and manage the clusters. Key advances at the microprocessor and system software levels have eliminated the need for these concerns.
Hardware and software makers are collaborating on these clusters to help new users to get their work done easier, faster, and better by moving from the limitations of desktops and workstations to the increased productivity potential of clusters.
There is a new generation of hyper-threaded processors that create the balance needed or raw performance desired to solve large-scale problems faster.
This allows a performance increase of 2x over the previous generation so designs are rendered fasters, data is displayed more quickly and with higher fidelity and visual comparisons are completed faster.
Complementing these gains on the hardware side are software suppliers who offer products that automatically provision jobs, manage nodes, manage workloads, schedule applications in parallel and dynamically schedule tasks.
There are a wide variety of registered applications to choose from that work seamlessly with certified cluster hardware components so you can run typical jobs with minimal effort.
HPC clusters offer stable, industry-accepted architecture and tools so engineering teams can efficiently manufacture solutions by designing once and building many. Additionally, they help reduce manufacturing and support costs by identifying trouble spots quickly before shipping, minimizing costly in-field call-backs and returns.
As a growing number of manufacturing engineering departments utilize HPC clusters, they’re able to bring products to market faster and more efficiently, all while driving innovation, which in this market is critical.
Tom Zsolt, PE, is vice president of Platform Computing, a maker of software to create and manage computing clusters.