How HPC Impacts Our Lives I: Space, Weather, and More

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Some weeks ago I was trying to explain to a friend what kind of work I am doing. When I started to explain “… and High Performance Computing is another area … ” he immediately interrupted me and said “Oh but that is only for geeks or super-smart people”. Well thanks buddy for the “super-smart” – or did you mean I am a geek? But your statement really made me reflect on HPC, what it is, where it is used, and what we – you and I – have to do with it …

We all know that HPC is traditionally used in Space Research. In the news we hear about fancy activities from NASA such as the “Mars Mission”.  Surely cool and hype, even more after the movie “The Martian” came to the cinemas in September 2015 (and by the way, NASA did strongly assist the filmmakers with depicting the science and technology in “The Martian” since it saw potential in promoting space exploration). But does space research really matter to us?

I think I already talked about it previously: yes – it does. There is indeed a “dark menace from outer space” which is not related to Star Wars, Darth Vader and the Emperor.

HPC-Dark-Menace

There exists a real threat―everyone has a picture in mind of the horror scenario where an asteroid hits our earth. NASA uses HPC supercomputers such as Pleiades (which runs SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) to design and develop technology like hypersonic aircrafts and spacesuits. They also simulate the landing of space crafts on various celestial bodies such as asteroids in order to explore them, redirect them or, ultimately, to save our earth by destroying targeted asteroids. Hopefully a rather improbable scenario, but still – the danger exists, and HPC could save our lives.

Another area where HPC is used is Weather and Climate Research. Thanks to HPC calculations, we can much better predict climate catastrophes and extreme weather phenomena, and we can take actions against new catastrophes. HPC really makes a difference here. Let´s have a closer look at Hurricane Sandy, which in 2012 hit 24 states, including New York, and killed 153 people in the US alone. However, thanks to the very correct calculations of the path and the severity of the Hurricane, a lot of prevention activities could be done in advance  – without these activities the damages would have been much higher.

HPC-Tornado

After the catastrophe, with the help of HPC technologies, preventive measures had been developed to ensure that in case of the next superstorm in these regions, damages will be less, and no people have to die. Thanks to HPC, forecast accuracy has been increased massively. Consider that in 1940, the chance of an American being killed by lightning was about one in 400,000. Today it’s one in 11 million.

But we don´t even need to talk about catastrophes. Everyone of us looks at the weather forecast, whether we plan our family activities like hiking or biking for the weekend or to just confirm if we need to take the umbrella with us on the way to work. Not possible without HPC !

HPC is also traditionally strong in Oil & Gas. Finding new energy resources becomes more and more complex. The use of HPC technologies and supercomputers has turned into being the key to success for oil & gas companies such as Total (which also runs SLES on the Pangea supercomputer).

HPC-Pangea

But how does this impact our lives? Even trivial activities like getting from one place to another, flying from home to your vacation destination, via plane, or driving your car from home to work somehow depend from HPC and the exploration of energy resources. You don´t even have to leave your home – in most cases getting your living room warm also is a matter of oil and gas resources – and thus of HPC …

And the forth area I´d like to focus on is Entertainment. I assume we all love cinema. But special effects or the creation of  3D animated movies would not be possible without HPC technologies. Curious now? More to come ….

Disclaimer: The text at hand has not been reviewed by a native speaker. If you find typos, please send them to me (meike.chabowski@suse.com) – or if you like them, just keep them :-).

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Meike Chabowski
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Meike Chabowski

Meike Chabowski works as Documentation Strategist at SUSE. Before joining the SUSE Documentation team, she was Product Marketing Manager for Enterprise Linux Servers at SUSE, with a focus on Linux for Mainframes, Linux in Retail, and High Performance Computing. Prior to joining SUSE more than 20 years ago, Meike held marketing positions with several IT companies like defacto and Siemens, and was working as Assistant Professor for Mass Media. Meike holds a Master of Arts in Science of Mass Media and Theatre, as well as a Master of Arts in Education from University of Erlangen-Nuremberg/ Germany, and in Italian Literature and Language from University of Parma/Italy.