Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Photo of Dona Crawford

Dona Crawford

Associate Director for Computation

Together, Great Minds and Advanced Computing Boost Innovation

In an increasingly global marketplace, businesses that use high-performance computing (HPC) often gain a strategic advantage. As demonstrated in the defense, aerospace, and pharmaceutical industries, HPC greatly reduces the time and cost to design, develop, prototype, and deploy new products. A 2003 study by the Council on Competitiveness found that HPC is considered indispensable by nearly all businesses that have adopted it, including some of America’s largest companies.

Governments throughout the world are also recognizing how HPC technology can foster industrial innovation and economic competitiveness, and they are thus making strategic, sustained investments in this area. For instance, the Japanese government has teamed with industry to develop computing applications for energy creation, life science studies, and drug discovery. The European Union also maintains strong partnerships with industries that focus on software development.

Through the Department of Energy’s economic competitiveness initiatives, several U.S. HPC centers and laboratories—including Lawrence Livermore—are making these large-scale computing resources available to companies both large and small. Today, the Laboratory has established a solid record of successful industrial collaboration in the area of HPC.

Few institutions could hope to match Livermore’s array of HPC resources, but our “special ingredient” is our people, who include both computer scientists with applications development, networking, storage, and analysis expertise and scientists and engineers adept at applying HPC to a range of scientific challenges. As described in Scaling Up Energy Innovation through Advanced Computing, the Laboratory recently concluded a successful one-year collaborative program called the hpc4energy incubator. Six energy companies, chosen through a competition, were paired with talented computer scientists at Livermore to solve a problem or advance an energy-related research effort using the Sierra supercomputing system.

Many industrial firms are working on challenging computational problems, but many more struggle to justify the costs of acquiring large-scale HPC systems and simulation tools and of hiring the knowledge experts needed to effectively use those resources. Efforts such as the hpc4energy incubator are intended to accelerate partnerships with industry and help overcome the roadblocks to broader HPC usage. Energy-related HPC research collaborations, including the six incubator projects, hasten development of efficient and affordable energy solutions. In addition, they protect the country’s economic, environmental, and energy security interests, thereby contributing to Livermore’s national security mission.

By spurring U.S. companies to incorporate HPC into their workflow, the incubator and related efforts such as Livermore’s HPC Innovation Center also serve to increase the user base for supercomputing systems. Expanding the market for existing advanced computing technologies makes it easier and more affordable for institutions such as Livermore to drive development of the next-generation hardware and software required to perform future mission-related work. Solving industrial problems allows us to test simulation tools and applications in a new environment, providing us with valuable feedback. It also widens the experience and skill set of our researchers.

In 2012, the Laboratory adopted a practice found in the computing industry and began holding a series of 24-hour programming competitions called ShipIt days. As described in Software Developers Get Their Hack On, these events allow computer scientists from different organizations and topical areas to work on a product of their choosing, provided that it fosters innovation, collaboration, or learning, or it advances a Laboratory mission. ShipIt days not only build camaraderie and encourage creativity, but they also can lead to new ideas for important projects while helping us retain our greatest asset—our people. Given the enthusiastic employee response to the inaugural event, we plan to hold up to four of these competitions in 2013.

Whether tapping their domain expertise to apply HPC to a technical problem, crafting detailed theoretical equations, or writing lines of code to improve a model’s accuracy, Livermore engineers and scientists are helping to spur economic competitiveness and technological innovation through the use of advanced computing resources. Initiatives such as hpc4energy and ShipIt demonstrate what really drives innovation: an environment that encourages the cross-fertilization of ideas between disciplines and departments and among businesses, national laboratories, universities, and other research centers. These multidisciplinary research collaborations are a potent catalyst for change.