November 2006 A
High Productivity Computing Systems and the Path Towards Usable Petascale Computing
Suzy Tichenor, Council on Competitiveness
Albert Reuther, MIT Lincoln Laboratory

HPC and Business Competitiveness

Alongside theory and experimentation, modeling and simulation using HPC has become the third leg of science and industrial design engineering. Industrial and other business firms are driven by external competition in a never-ending race to be first to market with the best products. The 2004 Council on Competitiveness study mentioned earlier also found that in these battles for global market supremacy, more-capable HPC resources often translate into faster time-to-market (in some cases more than 50% faster), reduced costs, and superior product quality.

Businesses use HPC systems (supercomputers) to design the cars we drive and the aircraft we fly in, to find and help extract new energy sources, to forecast severe weather, to discover new life-saving medicines and to safeguard our national security.

These benefits of HPC are often substantial:

  • In 1980, Boeing tested 77 wings for the 767. Thanks primarily to HPC simulation, Boeing needed to test only 11 wings for the 7E7 Dreamliner series.
  • Entertainment leader DreamWorks Animation SKG has leveraged supercomputing capabilities to set a whole new standard for animated films. As a result, the U.S. animation industry leads the world in market share.
  • At The Proctor & Gamble Company, HPC simulations are used for everything from testing the absorbency of the materials in Pampers diapers, to engineering bleach containers that minimize weight and maximize resistance to breakage, to designing the right geometric shape for Pringles potato chips that allow the chip to drop gently into a container rather than fly off the conveyor belt.
  • Wal-Mart relies heavily on HPC for supply chain management, including daily data analysis to determine what to stock in every Wal-Mart store worldwide, as well as for ergonomics—right down to turning on the lights in all the stores.
  • Recent advances in HPC technology were crucial for enabling Chevron and two of its partners to discover a new field in Gulf of Mexico deepwater that could yield 3-15 billion barrels of oil, boosting U.S. reserves by up to half.

The story doesn't end there. Going forward, America’s technological visionaries foresee equally dramatic advances if massive improvements in HPC power can be made available:

  • HPC could revolutionize medical procedures and devices as well as product safety for a variety of consumer products by creating virtual humans of all shapes and ages. For example, the current generation of crash test dummy, while significantly improved over earlier generations, is essentially composed of metal frames with sophisticated sensors, lacking the ability to assess the impact of collisions on muscle, bone, tendons and soft tissues.
  • HPC could increase oil recovery by 50-75% with more accurate seismic modeling of oil reservoirs. Currently, the uncertainties in the seismic models can lead to errors in drilling that both decrease output and increase environmental impact.
  • HPC could create designer catalysts that selectively interact with the molecules in crude oil, for example, allowing greater production of high-value products in the oil refining process at lower costs. Moreover, specialized catalysts would convert more of the “waste” in low-grade crude to usable products while simultaneously decreasing the impact on the environment of disposing of unusable product.
  • HPC could be used to model the spread of epidemics, enabling public health officials to intervene appropriately to halt the expansion of life-threatening diseases.
  • HPC offers the potential for real time analysis of data traffic flow through thousands of miles of communications links. Increased computing power could achieve real time monitoring of the Internet and sense and avert denial of service and other types of attacks.

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Reference this article
Tichenor, S., Reuther, A. "Making the Business Case for High Performance Computing: A Benefit-Cost Analysis Methodology," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 2, Number 4A, November 2006 A. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2006/11/making-the-business-case-for-high-performance-computing-a-benefit-cost-analysis-methodology/

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