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How Penguin Computing Is Fighting COVID-19 With Hybrid HPC

'We have several researchers that have joined in and are utilizing that environment, and at the moment, we're doing that at no cost for COVID-19 research,' Penguin Computing President Sid Mair says of the system integrator's cloud HPC service, which complements its on-premise offerings.

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How did Penguin Computing get involved in the Corona GPU upgrade opportunity?

Penguin has been involved from the start. Corona was procured a little over a year and a half ago or so to do research and provide an open research platform for outside researchers from the [U.S. Department of Energy] to be able to get work on a large-scale, GPU-accelerated infrastructure. [Lawrence] Livermore [National Laboratory] procured that through our CTS-1 contract that we have from the [DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration] for what they call commodity compute capabilities for high performance computing. So that's all the production environments that sit in the tri-labs — [this] is what the NNSA CTS-1 contract does.

The original project was a joint project, where AMD and ourselves and Mellanox, the interconnect vendor, and Livermore put together this compute system, Corona. Each of us donated a specific piece to the implementation, so it wasn't just a, for instance, pure procurement on the point of DOE. There was an agreement among all of us to provide resources and capabilities and basically a donation in-kind in building the entire environment. And AMD was a significant part of that at the time.

And so when COVID-19 came around, there was a pretty significant spike in the ability for [DOE] to use that. A lot of the biological or biometric codes as well as well as artificial intelligence codes utilize GPUs more than your traditional physics codes do in in a compute environment. So Corona was a really good fit, because we had a very good combination of GPU-accelerated capabilities along with general high-performance computing based on standard compute architectures. This was done [based on a] need. They wanted to provide this resource to the research community.

And so AMD, through open discussions between the DOE, Lawrence Livermore and ourselves, said, "look, we would like to go ahead and provide these GPUs." At the time when we did the original Corona, half the machine was just pure CPU base compute, and half the machine was GPU-accelerated, with the intent of upgrading the rest of the machine for GPU acceleration at a later time when budget was available, so this ended up being a donation rather than having to worry about a budget. I really think AMD stepped up and had the means to be able to provide those GPUs, so it's a great combination.

Was it AMD that reached out to Penguin about this or Livermore?

I can't necessarily answer that 100 percent because they reached out to my team that that covers the account. It was almost simultaneously Livermore reaching out and then AMD reaching out an hour later. It was a very, very close time period.

We are very commonly on joint calls with many of our suppliers, major suppliers of those types of compute resources. We are always on three-, four-way Zoom-type calls where we're discussing with the DOE: how we can improve or provide specific computing capabilities for their needs? And very, very typically, one of those CPU or GPU suppliers in the industry are a part of that — or sometimes other accelerator suppliers or interconnect suppliers, so it varies pretty often. But it's very common for us to have those kind of conversations.

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