by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Formula One racing teams have the need for speed, and even more importantly, acceleration. It is what wins races, after all. But the funny thing about the Formula One sport is that the speed of the parallel clusters that run the software that is used to design racing cars is capped. And that means wringing performance out of those systems is absolutely vital if a team hopes to not be lapped by its rivals.
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Above all the high performance computing cap on the systems that run the computational fluid dynamics, or CFD, applications that are used to design the race cars is absolutely intentional, Otmar Szafnauer, chief operating officer of the Sahara Force India racing team, explains to The Next Platform. But Szafnauer is hopeful that this performance cap for clusters will be lifted sometime in the future for both the good of the sport and for the good of advancing the state of the art in CFD applications.
There is a continuous flurry of engineering activity at Sahara Force India’s facility in Silverstone, a village in the so-called Motorsport Valley that stretches from Surrey to East Anglia in England where the vast majority of Formula One teams are located. During the weeks when the wind tunnels are shut down according to FIA rules, the team is making parts, and when the wind tunnel fires up, it runs continuously as parts are tested on 60 percent scale models of the vehicles. It takes three to five minutes to test a part on the scale model, and after all of the data is collected, the team decides which full-sized parts to manufacture to test on the real cars.
All of this has to be done on a relatively modest CFD performance budget, as dictated by the rules governing Formula One, and one that has not been increased along the Moore’s Law curve that other HPC customers get to ride up. And that is why getting every last clock dedicated to designing parts and predicting their performance is key. When Sahara Force India got its latest 25 teraflops cluster two years ago, it partnered with Univa to put its Grid Engine workload scheduler on the system, which allows for engineers to submit jobs for modelling and push utilization on the CFD cluster up into the 97 percent range at a sustained level.
“If you can be more efficient, you gain a strategic or performance advantage, and this is where Univa helps us,” says Szafnauer.
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