Thailand Set to Join Global Supercomputing Elite

In the thirty years of the Top 500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, Thailand has never had a system rank high enough to secure a spot. Assuming teams run the Top 500 LINPACK benchmark in time for the next listing in June 2022, Thailand will have its first machine appear with a noteworthy 13 petaflops of peak double-precision performance.

The new HPE Cray EX system will be housed at Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), providing a 30X boost in performance over the existing machine at the center and once running, could likely place in the top 50 fastest supercomputers in the world. The architecture is a mix of AMD CPUs (496 “Milan” processors) and over 700 Nvidia A100 GPUs. The system will also feature the HPE Slingshot fabric and a Cray Clusterstor E1000 storage array and is expected to be operational sometime in 2022 although no date has been given.

The goal is to have a scalable architecture that meet the demands of a wide range of R&D missions for national programs, from pharma and engineering to weather forecasting and materials research. To date, the center has been using its TARA system, a 60-node, Intel “Skylake” system with Nvidia V100 GPU acceleration for some nodes along a Mellanox EDR 100Gb/s network with IBM Spectrum Scale storage.

The goal of the NSTDA system, along with its predecessor, is to provide an HPC service for Thai R&D, develop the country’s HPC roadmap, and promote development of an HPC workforce. Since opening in 2019, the NSTDA center, also called ThaiSC, has been working to raise awareness of Thailand’s resources through an HPC virtual school, along with EU partners as well as its own conferences and publications.

If Thailand’s HPC application-specific research aims show anything, it’s an emphasis on increasing independence, especially in areas like weather prediction and modeling. HPE Cray machines have the dominant share of the weather forecasting market for supercomputers, so this is not a surprise, although it is unclear if Thailand’s models will support GPU yet as many weather centers are still CPU-only (though that is quickly shifting).

Thailand is also focused on using HPC to boost its energy supply with renewables. The new system will be used to work on problems in combustion efficiency, energy storage (batteries in particular) and solar power. Another top priority is boosting Thailand’s native healthcare industry, including working on drug design and development for COVID-19 and other diseases.

Despite its proximity to other Asian technology superpowers, Thailand has yet to develop a rich ecosystem of its own hyperscale or large-scale research HPC initiatives beyond ThaiSC and NSTDA. The country is, however, the site of many datacenters that support wider Asian business operations. IDC data from 2019 contends that Thailand IT spending will be $72 billion between 2019 and 2022. Large telcos with their own cloud offerings, including ST Telemedia have already built massive datacenters (20–40MW) in Thailand and colocation facility builds are on the rise, spurred in part by the government’s Thailand 4.0 Initiative.

Much of Thailand’s 4.0 effort is centered on manufacturing and IoT technologies, but does include HPC-oriented areas including large-scale data analytics and materials research.

“The HPE Cray EX system delivers a comprehensive, end-to-end high performance computing (HPC)  solution that is transforming research with advanced approaches to modeling and simulation, and  powers AI initiatives that generate major insights and breakthroughs,” said Bill Mannel, vice president  and general manager, High Performance Computing, at HPE.

“We are honored to collaborate with the  National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) to design its new supercomputer using the HPE Cray EX system. NSTDA’s new supercomputer, which will deliver a new set of capabilities for researchers, scientists and engineers, represents a significant leap in innovation for Thailand that will unlock new economic and societal value for the nation and its people.”

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