joi, 15 noiembrie 2007

NASCAR drivers get HPC help with performance extremes

Measuring aerodynamic drag at 190 mph 'drives the engineers to a whole new level'

John Picklo, manager of high-performance computing (HPC) at Chrysler LLC, describes himself simply as an "IT guy" who's also a NASCAR fan. And he will be rooting Sunday for drivers of Dodge cars in the final race of this year's Nextel Cup.

The Chrysler engineers who work on the HPC systems that Picklo manages use the machines to improve race car performance. They work closely with the race car teams, and if one of their vehicles win -- as Dodge drivers Kurt Busch and Juan Montoya have in several Nextel races this year -- the driver and the racing team will be honored, the vehicle noted and congratulations shared around the company.

But no one will know, really, what role the HPC engineering staff had. Did the increase in fuel efficiency help? Or the design changes that improved air flow?

"We can make an improvement and get a couple of more miles per hour out of it, and really help -- and if the driver just skims the wall on lap 67, he can negate what we did," says Picklo.

"It is kind of like a football game -- everybody has to have to a good day. If one guy fumbles the ball, he can mess things up," says Picklo, who spoke at this week's SC07 supercomputing show in Reno, Nev. "We're doing our job, and so are the drivers, the teams and everybody else."

But Picklo, whose systems total 1,650 cores running in clusters in Linux and Unix environments, is certain of one benefit. Because these race cars operate at the extremes of vehicle performance, the HPC engineering work that has gone into them has had the "unanticipated benefit" of helping with vehicle performance for a wide range of vehicles.

"The extreme conditions of racing are teaching lessons that we might not have otherwise learned," says Picklo. Measuring aerodynamic drag for vehicles moving at 190 miles per hour "drives the engineers to a whole new level of skills," he says.

One example, he says, is the drag effect that large eddies of air have at such high speeds. By using computational fluid dynamics on the HPC systems, Chrysler engineers discovered how these eddies worked, their impact on vehicles and how to tune for it. That knowledge went back into their passenger car designs, Picklo says.

When vehicles travel at racing speeds, issues that might not be as pronounced at lower speeds may present themselves. For instance, the computer simulations show that a race car driving behind another vehicle may get restricted air flow, which can impact the engine. When that knowledge was applied to vehicle driving behind a large truck on a highway, engineers saw the same reduced air flow, says Picklo.

This ability "to develop more detailed fluid dynamic models for extreme conditions" has taught engineers a lot, says Picklo: "If you never think about what happens at 190 miles an hour, you might not realize that the same effects translate back into passenger vehicles."

India's powerful supercomputer signals HPC ambitions

The U.S. remains by far the global supercomputing leader. But an India-based company that's part of a major IT offshore services firm has just built the world's fourth most powerful supercomputer, according to the just-released Top500 supercomputer list.

Rankings on that list, which is maintained by academic researchers and updated every six months, can be notoriously short-lived, thanks to the relentless worldwide push to build faster systems. But India's position near the top of this list is a clear signal of its ambitions in information technology.

"We would like to be in the forefront of [high-performance computing] research, services," said Ashwin Nanda, who heads Computational Research Laboratories in Pune, India, which owns the system. The goal is to "basically bring the analytical brainpower of India to solve the supercomputing, HPC-related problems, that we have in the world," he said.

"This is a completely new market for us," said Nanda, who was attending the Supercomputing 07 conference in Reno, Nevada, where the Top500 list was announced.

CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons Ltd., which is in turn part of a conglomerate that's one of India's largest IT offshore services providers.

Nanda said his company's supercomputer, built with Hewlett-Packard Co. servers using Intel chips with 14,240 processor cores, will be used for government scientific research and product development for Tata, as well as to provide services to U.S. customers. The system went operational last month and achieved performance of 117.9 TFLOPS.

India, China and other countries are increasingly being tapped by U.S. and European firms for research and development. But of the supercomputers powerful enough to make the Top500 supercomputers list, only nine, or just under 2%, are in India. The U.S. is home to 283 of the systems, or nearly 57%. Next runner up is the U.K., with 48 or nearly 10% of the systems powerful enough to make the list.

While India's system ranked high, it's still a distance from the top position. That fastest system, with some 213,000 processing core, is IBM's BlueGene/L System, a joint development of IBM and the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. It achieved a benchmark of 478.2 TFLOPS.

Horst Simon, associate laboratory director of computing sciences at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and one of the Top500 list authors, said it was exciting to see India's entrance into the top 10 and said the country has "huge potential" as a supercomputing nation.

"India is very well known for having great software engineers and great mathematicians, and having a [HPC] center there is a catalyst for doing more in the high-performance computing field," said Simon, who said it brings "a whole new set of players into the supercomputing world."

Tech for Teens

Camps use cool gadgetry to attract middle-schoolers to future tech careers.

Faced with dwindling enrollments in university computer science and IT programs, the Society for Information Management has taken a novel approach to engaging America’s youth in potential IT careers: It is partnering with public libraries and other organizations to create technology camps for teenagers.

The first such summer camp, which Chicago-based SIM organized three years ago with the Memphis Public Library, “connects SIM to the next generation of technology users,” says Terrice Thomas, who works at the Memphis Public Library & Information Center.

The weeklong Teen Tech Camps, which target 12-to-15-year-olds, give kids a chance to learn about BSOs — “big, shiny objects” such as iPhones, digital cameras and other gadgets — says John Oglesby, director of IT strategy at Memphis-based ACH Food Cos. and former president of the Memphis SIM chapter.
The gadget sessions, conducted by employees of SIM Memphis member companies, are intended to appeal to teen campers while teaching them how technology can be applied in a work environment. For instance, one instructor demonstrated how tablet PCs can be used in hospitals, “and that surprised some of the kids,” Thomas says.

The high-tech gadgets also benefit the library’s staffers, who are learning about emerging technologies and receiving training on the devices used at the camp, she says.

The Memphis camps, which have drawn 12 to 18 teenagers per session, require applicants to obtain a referral letter from a teacher and to write a short essay to gauge their interest in the program, according to John Lloyd, the business and sciences librarian.

The first session was so popular that “we’ve had kids try to sneak into the camp” each of the past two years, says Betty Anne Wilson, assistant director for library advancement.

This past summer, campers produced their own webcasts.

Officials from SIM’s Memphis chapter and the Memphis Public Library worked closely to develop the camp program. “One of the reasons it worked so well is that John [Oglesby] and I talked a lot about the missions of both organizations,” Wilson says. The library has “a lot of experience with teens and had done a lot of programs with them,” she adds.

Expansion Plans

SIM officials are so enthusiastic about the Memphis camp that they’re “trying to find ways to incorporate this into other SIM chapters,” says Stephen Pickett, chairman of the SIM Foundation and vice president and CIO at Penske Corp. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

For instance, SIM has created a set of software templates from the Memphis project that other SIM chapters can use to develop their own Teen Tech Camps with libraries and other community organizations. The software, which includes a budget template, marketing timelines and permission forms, will be available for download from SIM’s home page in the near future, Pickett says.

SIM’s Philadelphia chapter has launched a similar program, starting with a school system and more recently partnering with a nonprofit organization, he says.

“We’re actively working on selling this” to other chapters, Pickett says. “We’re hoping to have 29 more [camps] up and running next year.”

Women in IT: A Lopsided Pay Scale

According to Computerworld’s annual Salary Survey, male IT professionals continue to outearn their female counterparts.

At the highest level of IT, male CIOs and vice presidents made on average $179,026 in total compensation this year, while women in the same jobs took in nearly $6,000 less, at $173,052. The pay differences between middle managers and technical workers are similarly unequal.

This salary inequity between men and women in IT is a longstanding issue, but it could have short-term consequences for companies that pay female IT workers less, according to Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman of CTPartners, an executive recruiter in New York.

“The pay package is what it is for the best executive,” regardless of gender, says Ramakrishnan. “It’s a rather shortsighted view if you’re paying a female executive less. You’re not going to hold onto that person very long.”

Ramakrishnan says while he hasn’t seen a difference in compensation packages between the male and female IT executives he has helped place, he has seen pay inequities between men and women in lower levels of the IT organization. In many workplaces, the inequity is the result of longstanding differences in pay that have yet to be corrected, he says.

For women who feel that they are underpaid, Ramakrishnan offers this advice: Find out what your peers are earning at similar companies, and present your findings to a supervisor or human resources representative to illustrate your market value.

“It lets the company know you’re thinking about it, and it lets them know whether you’re well paid or underpaid,” he says.

Karen Piper, a business intelligence analyst at Ball Corp., a Broomfield, Colo.-based maker of food and beverage containers, says she believes that the salary gap between men and women has narrowed in recent years. But she doesn’t think the IT landscape is necessarily a level playing field.

“Men don’t have to work as hard as women to get promoted,” says Piper, a 20-year IT veteran. Female IT workers “have to go above and beyond” to advance, she says.

Others aren’t sure there’s a correlation between gender and pay. Didi Raizen, an IT applications manager at Flatiron Construction Corp. in Longmont, Colo., says she doesn’t think she earns less than her male peers at other companies. “Women have demonstrated their value in the IT realm,” she says.

Tammy Wicks, a business applications analyst at FedEx Freight Corp. in San Jose, says she, too, is unsure whether there’s salary inequity between men and women in IT. But she says she does know this: “My salary still outweighs my husband’s.”