High-performance computing (HPC) is an essential tool for today’s science and industry. It is used to calculate weather forecasts, climate modelling and predictions, design new cars or aeroplanes, find promising new materials, and to discover new drugs for curing diseases, just to name a few. While everyday computing devices like smartphones or laptops have just a few processing cores (typically four or eight), high-performance computing uses hundreds to hundreds of thousands of cores to be able to perform the extensive calculations and to process large amounts of data.
One can easily imagine that programming applications to run on such high-performance computers is very complex: the calculations necessary have to be subdivided in parts and distributed over available processing cores, and then coordinated and synchronized so that in the end correct results are calculated. The data to process has also to be partitioned and distributed to the memory of the processor cores, so that all the data for the calculations is in the right place in the moment it is needed. As HPC computers and their operation is very expensive, ideally, all processor cores should be busy all the time and the calculations should be done in the fastest and most efficient way. Since operating these large computers uses a lot of electricity, making software run more efficiently can also reduce the amount of energy used which has obvious implications for the environment.
Here is where the POP CoE (Performance Optimisation and Productivity Centre of Excellence) comes into play: POP experts assess the performance and efficiency of HPC applications, and provide recommendations on how to improve it if it is not satisfactory. POP also provides training on methods and tools for performance assessment, so that application developers can learn how to assess and optimize their application codes themselves.
POP has no direct impact on society or economy. The impact of the work of POP is indirect: by improving and optimising HPC applications of academic and research institutions and large and small enterprises, POP allows them to either get results faster than their competitors do and/or to perform more calculation runs at the same time and thereby increasing the impact and value of their science or products. Note that as now almost all fields of science and many businesses are using HPC technology, the impact of POP is universal and it is not limited to a specific area.
In the first three years of its operation, the POP CoE was already very successful. The efficiency of 150 HPC applications have been assessed and, in many cases, their performance could be doubled or tripled. In some cases, the improvements were ten-fold.