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HPC Benchmarking: A Quick Primer

Sep 23, 2009, 21:36 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dougleas Eadline)

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"Mention HPC benchmarking and the first thing that comes to mind is the Top500 list. The actual benchmark is called HPL, which stands for High Performance Linpack. The Linpack benchmark was designed to measure the floating point performance for solving a system of linear equations. If you don't know what that means, not to worry, it is simply one way to measure how much floating point performance a computer can achieve. There are other worthwhile benchmarks, but by virtue of a bi-annual Top500 list, HPL has become the most famous. As benchmarks go, HPL has many tunable options and thus can take a considerable amount of time to optimize. Also, consider that HPL can take hours or days to run, so getting a good "HPL number" can take a long time.

"For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that a benchmark is a reproducible rate of performance. For instance, in HPC the FLOPS metric is often used where FLOPS stands for Floating Point Operations per Second. Clusters are very good at delivering FLOPS, so good that the prefix of Tera (or T) or Giga (or G) are used. One TFLOP is 1x10E12 floating point operations per second, while one GFLOP is 1,000 times less or 1x10E9. The world's fastest machines are now measured in PFLOPS, where P is Peta or 1x10E15.

"FLOPS is not the only measure of performance for a cluster. In some cases, one may want to measure integer, or I/O, performance. The Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) is perhaps the best known independent set of benchmarks. SPEC has many benchmarks, including a specific set for MPI and OpenMP. The SPEC benchmarks are actually a suite of benchmarks from which a composite rating is computed. The SPEC benchmarks must be purchased and are mainly used by vendors to report/rank performance of new computer systems."

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