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Industry upstart: You know what high-end HPC needs? More DAY-GLO

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HPC blog One of the best things about industry events like the GPU Technology Conference (GTC 2013) is walking around the trade show floor. It gives me a chance to talk to smaller, niche companies who don’t get the media coverage given to the titans of the high-performance computing industry. (Or to Titan the supercomputer, for that matter.) One foray onto the shop floor brought me to CreativeC, an HPC consulting and hardware company based in New Mexico.

Here’s a short video of my visit:

The first thing that caught my eye was their high resolution video wall. With six 46-inch monitors, it was satisfyingly large, and with a full 1080p stereoscopic image, it had breathtaking clarity and image fidelity – at least to my untrained eye. Though the display sported six screens, the system can support up to 16.

The wall was being driven by yet another eye-catching thing: a box that looked like a workstation with a glandular condition sporting a grafted-on display. This, they told me, was their “data centre on a desk” Stelletto system.

Maybe it’s not quite an entire data centre, but it does pack quite a punch. The roomy case can hold dual motherboards and still have enough space for a full complement of full-size GPU cards. These systems are built to order and CreativeC helps clients configure the system for their particular workload. In addition to picking out the compute innards, customers can also select from a wide range of brightly coloured cases.

Although most customers would opt for two dual-socket nodes, Stelletto is big enough to contain two quad-socket boards. Nodes are linked together internally by an infiniband interconnect. At 104 pounds (47kg), it’s not something that you’re going to move from desk to desk very often – unless you're considerably more ripped than the typical researcher.

The company also showed off a 3D holographic worktable where image view tracked the movement of 3D glasses, and a stylus allowed us to explore human lungs and heart in detail – almost too much detail. A camera tool on the desktop could be moved to show an internal view of the heart and the various bits of plumbing attached to it. It was a demo package, so we weren’t looking at a real heart, but it was vivid enough to make me a little queasy.

One of the coolest things was a demo of their new Scorpii project. Scorpii is a visualisation system. At the show, it used two systems with six GPUs to generate a toy-based molecular dynamics model and another system with three GPUs to project the model on nine displays in real time. It’s an affordable platform that allows researchers to generate their simulations and visualise the results quickly, rather than wait hours for the program to execute on a traditional supercomputer. On the video, Tim Thomas, physicist and deputy director of the University of New Mexico Center for Advanced Research Computing Center (a CreativeC consultant) walks me through the simulation.

While the household names in tech get most of the media and analyst attention, many of the most innovative technologies originate in much smaller firms you’ve never heard of. ®

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