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Supercomputing now part of everyday life

Published November 13, 2012 10:10 pm

Technology • SLC conference showcases products, research in high-performance machines.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Turns out supercomputing is us.

No longer just the province of huge government-sponsored labs, supercomputing is in many places in our everyday lives.

Exhibit No. 1 might be the presence this week in Salt Lake City of nearly 10,000 people from more than 50 countries attending the 24th International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis.

The weeklong conference (which is not open to the public) at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center showcases not only highly technical information on supercomputing and research that came from use of the high-speed devices, but also commercial software and hardware vendors.

Rick White, a co-founder and chief marketing officer of Utah-based Fusion-io, a maker of solid-state digital storage devices, said supercomputing is in use in everyday activities most of us now take for granted.

Companies are adopting supercomputing technologies "not to just do research on actuarial tables as an insurance company or looking at material science or pharmaceuticals research," he said. "Today, they're looking at it for text messaging on phones and uploading photos on a social media site."

Fusion-io, whose offices are in Cottonwood Heights, has pushed itself to front and center at the conference, taking up one of the largest areas of the exhibit hall and playing host to a street party featuring barbecue and the Nitro Circus, a freestyle motocross act.

The company sells high-end memory devices, and the software that helps to operate them for use in high-end computing. Fusion-io uses flash memory (such as the storage chips in digital cameras and cell phones) that stores huge amounts of data in relatively small-sized drives that can be delivered at speeds many hundred times those of traditional spinning storage disks.

The publicly traded company's revenue has grown from $36.2 million in 2010 to $359.3 million in its fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30. Apple and Facebook are among its customers, and White said around 90 percent of the music streaming from Pandora comes from Fusion-io storage.

Chad Harrington, vice president of marketing of Provo-based Adaptive Computing, offered other examples of how high-performance computing reaches into nearly everyone's life.

"It impacts all of our lives, the clothes that we wear, the cars that we drive, the drugs that we use when we're treating sicknesses, all these things are developed on supercomputing-type applications," he said.

Adaptive Computing markets software called Moab that helps manage supercomputers and data centers.

And it's not just big companies that are using supercomputers, but also smaller ones, who are seeing that such computing power can give them an advantage in the marketplace, Harrington said.

"They will purchase a supercomputer because that's how they get their edge over international competition," he said. "[U.S.] manufacturing can't win on cost … but [it] can win on quality, and the way [it wins] on quality is by using high-performance computing."

Utah universities and even Skyline High School have booths at the conference, as do schools and companies from around the world, including the University of Toyko and the University of Vienna. Giant Intel takes up a huge amount of floor space and government agencies such as NASA also are represented.

tharvey@sltrib.com

Twitter: @TomHarveySltrib