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Interview - Prospecting with High Performance Computing

Feature - Prospecting with High Performance Computing


This photograph, taken by S.D. Ellen of the U.S. Geological Survey, shows damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake which took place 17 October 1989. Image courtesy NASA.

ISGTW likes to take a look now and then at the world outside of grid computing, and see things from the perspective of end-users. Here, we learn about high performance computing at one of Europe’s largest oil and gas companies, Repsol, from Jesus Garcia—who is responsible for the company’s information technology.

iSGTW: Why do you use HPC?

Garcia: HPC is the only way that large amounts of seismic data can be processed quickly. When prospecting for oil and gas, there is significant commercial advantage in knowing where the most promising fields are, given the highly competitive nature of the sector.

iSGTW: In which application areas do you use HPC?

Garcia: The primary use of HPC within Repsol is for the processing of seismic data. Repsol uses a range of algorithms, some of which are proprietary—for example Reverse Time Migration. The company also runs some financial risk calculations on a small cluster.

iSGTW: Which HPC systems do you use in your business? What is their capital value? How scalable are your applications?

Garcia: Repsol uses resources at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, comprising an IBM system with PowerPC processors. There is also a significant technical collaboration between the two organizations. Repsol also has a cluster of 300 cell processors in Houston, Texas. Seismic processing is highly scalable because different data sets are independent.

iSGTW: For your business, does the cloud offer a viable alternative to owning and managing your own systems?

Garcia: Cloud is a very good option for the type of applications we have. However, we do not yet use the cloud because some further development of languages and programming methodologies is needed to give portability and performance.

iSGTW: What are the challenges you see in the development of your HPC capability (e.g. scalability of applications, power consumption, cost of systems)?

Garcia: The big challenges are portability of applications across different systems and power consumption. The very rapid development of HPC technology makes investment in hardware very difficult to justify and, in many cases, it is better to hire computing time on centralized facilities such as those at BSC.

iSGTW: Are new languages and programming paradigms needed particularly as we move toward exascale systems?

Garcia: There is clearly a need to protect the significant investment already made in existing software. Portability is very important. Although performance is also a significant factor, as systems get more and more powerful, it should be possible to trade-off performance against portability.

iSGTW: Describe the HPC systems you would like to have available in 3, 5 and 10 years’ time.

Garcia: The key features would be portability with no significant performance losses and low power consumption. Half the total cost of ownership of HPC systems is the power consumption. A “wonder” compiler that can adapt algorithms to parallel devices while also achieving a good performance would also be desirable, but this may be more of a wish than a reality.

iSGTW: In which HPC research areas would EU-funded programs benefit your business?

Garcia: There is a lot of HPC expertise in the EU. This should be better used by industry. The EU has a role to play here. A network of HPC resources, academic experts and industrial users should be set up. A key issue would be how to set up this network and how to ensure that applications could move easily from the systems at one centre to those at another. Furthermore, efforts should be made to port significant libraries such as MATLAB and SciLab to high-performance systems.

—An earlier version of this article appeared in PlanetHPC. Emilie Tanke, for iSGTW.

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