While HPC, or "supercomputing", is a familiar concept to company sectors that have long relied on computer modelling, such as aerospace and automotive, organisations such as the Council on Competitiveness and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) have characterized access to HPC as a key factor in maintaining America's manufacturing competitiveness, especially among small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
"Our studies and others have shown that high performance computing is a necessary ingredient for American manufacturers to innovate and stay ahead of their foreign competition", stated Jon Riley, vice president of digital manufacturing at NCMS. "This is especially true in the case of SMEs."
Traditionally, the sizeable capital investment associated with HPC systems has restricted their availability as a competitive resource to larger companies. The advent of Cloud computing has opened many companies' eyes to another approach - renting computing capacity on an on-demand basis.
SDSC, which operates several medium- to large-scale "cluster" computing systems primarily configured to serve academic researchers, offers space-available access to companies, both local and distant, at market prices. Several companies have already taken advantage of the service, especially regional businesses that value the ability to visit the data centre and meet face-to-face with HPC experts.
For example, when San Diego Gas & Electric was getting ready to deploy a high-resolution weather forecasting model to provide early warning for extreme fire dangers, the utility was able to tune and run its model on SDSC's Triton Compute Cluster, which was recently upgraded and renamed the Triton Shared Computing Cluster, or TSCC.
The systems at SDSC can be of particular benefit to the technology companies that form a major part of the San Diego regional economy. One such company is Decision Sciences International Corporation, whose Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS) uses advanced physics technologies to detect nuclear material in cargo containers and elsewhere.
"We needed to scale up our computing to gain more throughput for our detection models and complete our product development", stated Shawn McKenney, vice president of the company's technical operations. "Having access to SDSC let us get moving quickly and stay on schedule. SDSC being just a few miles from our facility in Poway facilitated face-to-face interactions and project start-up."
Computer-based modelling and simulation are of increasing importance to manufacturing companies as they look to speed product development and design new features and product improvements that would not be possible through physical prototyping. One company in the San Diego area that is leveraging computer simulation for just such purposes is Hunter Industries, a maker of water-efficient irrigation products.
As California practices greater environmental stewardship, the use of recycled and unfiltered water for irrigation purposes has grown significantly. With that has come a new challenge for companies such as Hunter: fine silt and other debris often exist in unfiltered water sources such as lakes, rivers, and wells, and can cause internal components of sprinklers to malfunction over time.
When Hunter's product engineers wanted to update their existing line of sprinkler heads, they turned to SDSC and its HPC resources and expertise to help develop increasingly fine-resolution CFD (computational fluid dynamics) simulations to overcome this problem. The project was an anecdotal validation of the case made by the Council on Competitiveness regarding the role of HPC in enhancing the competitiveness of America's small- and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises.
"HPC will certainly be a valuable tool for us going forward as we increase our reliance on CFD simulation to reduce costs and time associated with prototyping and design", stated Gene Smith, a Hunter vice president.
"While designing and operating leading-edge HPC systems for academic researchers is SDSC's core mission, high-tech businesses have realized the benefits of leveraging the Center's services and expertise for their own needs", stated Ron Hawkins, SDSCs director of industry relations. "In addition to having a potential impact on the local economy and the competitiveness of U.S.-based companies, we appreciate the interactions and potential for developing deeper research collaborations with our industrial HPC users."
In addition to providing access to HPC systems, SDSC works with industry in a variety of ways including sponsored research projects, technical training, and industry-sponsored centres of excellence such as the Center for Large-scale Data Systems research (CLDS) and the Predictive Analytics Center of Excellence (PACE).
SDSC also offers a formal Industrial Partners Programme (IPP) for companies wishing to explore collaborations or maintain an ongoing interaction with the centre. SDSC is beginning its 2013-2014 webinar series for industry at 11:00 a.m. to 12 noon PT on Tuesday, November 12. The first webinar, presented by PACE Director Natasha Balac, is entitled "Demystifying the Data Scientist". More information on the IPP webinar series may be found on-line .