Data Sheet—How to Build a Super Computer From Video Cards

October 25, 2017, 1:12 PM UTC

Welcome to midweek, Aaron in for Adam today.

Advanced Micro Devices CEO Lisa Su wowed supercomputer geeks this summer when she showed off the company’s Project 47 at the SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles. In a rack just slightly taller than the MIT-trained Ph.D. CEO herself, Project 47 crammed 20 of AMD’s newest Epyc microprocessor chips inside along with 80 graphics processing units based on the company’s new Vega design and 10 terabytes of memory. The bottom line was a supercomputer that could perform 1 petaflop of calculations per second at a less-than-supercomputer price.

At a petaflop, which is a one followed by 15 zeros worth of calculations per second, that’s as fast as the fastest and priciest supercomputers in the world from 2009 and would rank just outside of the top 100 today. It’s also a testament to how fast progress has come in the past few years of chip designs, especially for graphics processors, which used to be relegated to the domain of video game junkies. And the biggest cloud data center companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, are filling up more racks with GPUs as customers seek to run the kinds of artificial intelligence and machine learning tasks that thrive on the graphics processing architecture.

So far, its been Su’s fellow Taiwanese-born CEO, Nvidia’s Jensen Huang, who has captured the bulk of the new cloud GPU market. But AMD just started shipping its newest Vega graphics chips in volume in the third quarter, the company revealed on Tuesday in its third quarter results. Along with Epyc, the server CPU that started shipping earlier this year, the chips are among the results of Su’s years-long effort to remake AMD’s entire line up with higher performing, modern designs. And though Nvidia has a big head start, and offers a popular and proprietary set of software tools to go with its chips, Su is optimistic that AMD can win a lot more business in the data center, too.

Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.

One advantage for Su may be that while Nvidia pitches GPUs and Intel is selling CPUs, only AMD has leading products in both segments. Some cloud servers will use Epyc and Vega together, just like in the Project 47 supercomputer, she said.

“We see them separately and together of some systems,” Su told me this week. “It’s a fast growing segment of the market, and we’re very underrepresented in share, so we see that continuing to grow.”


Not reassuring. Sprint and T-Mobile are getting closer to combining. The two wireless carriers are looking at completing an all-stock merger within the next three weeks that would pay Sprint shareholders a "modest premium" over the company's current stock price, Reuters reported.

Not reassuring, take two. Apple CEO Tim Cook didn't having anything positive to say when asked by BuzzFeed about rumors of supply shortages with the upcoming iPhone X. "We’ll see what happens," the often-droll CEO said. (Apple may be easing its accuracy standards on facial recognition in the new phone to reduce production delays, Bloomberg reported). Cook also dismissed talk that he has already selected a successor. "I see my role as CEO to prepare as many people as I can to be CEO and that’s what I’m doing," Cook said.

Definitely not reassuring. Amazon unveiled a system to let customers choose to really trust the e-commerce giant. With a door lock and camera system dubbed Amazon Key, a delivery person could enter a customer's home to drop off a package.

A little reassuring. After Russia flooded social networks with bogus political ads, the largest social networks are belatedly trying to catch up. On Tuesday, Twitter said it would voluntarily label political and issue-related ads and disclose who paid for the posts. The move comes as Congress discusses making social networks subject to the same political ad disclosure rules that apply to TV and radio.

Nope, not reassuring again. Speaking of social networks and lagging rules, the financial services industry is also struggling to reconcile rules about retaining all records with activity on social networks. Abby Johnson, the CEO of mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments, said the rules need a major update. "Customers expect recommendations from Amazon, peer feedback on Facebook, and instant communications on Snapchat," she said in a speech on Tuesday. "But the retention requirements for social media make it difficult to give customers the ‘in the moment’ help that they need.”

Very unreassuring. A new wave of ransomware called "Bad Rabbit" is spreading across eastern Europe. The unknown hackers behind the attack are locking up victims' data and demanding ransoms to be paid in bitcoin.

Your call on level of reassurance. Hulu is losing CEO Mike Hopkins, who was hired away to run the television effort at Sony Pictures Entertainment. Fox TV exec Randy Freer, who oversaw cable channels including FX and National Geographic, will take over at Hulu.


Speaking of iPhone X supply shortages, the new phone has been beset by rumors of manufacturing problems. Bloomberg's Tim Culpan dug into some of the numbers disclosed by Apple suppliers like Foxconn and Taiwan Semiconductor, and found some seemingly troubling production shortfalls. That led him to question whether Apple has lost its former supply chain management excellence, Tim Cook's calling card before being promoted to CEO. Culpan concludes:

If this truly is a single-cycle mistake, then it's possible Apple will return to its former glory. If the problems are a result of hubris then it indicates to me that Apple has lost its mojo. With rival brands like Samsung and Huawei becoming increasingly adept at working with suppliers, Apple risks losing its hardware edge at a time when its iOS platform is also under fire. It simply can't afford to make such a mistake again.


How Google Could Woo More Customers Away From Amazon and Microsoft With Help From Cisco By Barb Darrow

How This Startup Plans to Use Blockchain to Revolutionize the Coffee Supply Chain By Robert Hackett

In Age of Email Hacks, Startup Brings Secure and Encrypted Chat to Businesses By Barb Darrow

Bitcoin Shop Coinbase Boosts Hacker Bounties to $50,000 By Jeff John Roberts

It's Finally (Sort of) Legal for Kids to Use an Amazon Echo, Says FTC By John Patrick Pullen

AT&T Is Third Major Carrier Suffering From Weak iPhone 8 Sales By Aaron Pressman

Microsoft's Cloud Is Getting Some Cray Supercomputing Love By Jonathan Vanian


At a time when even legal immigration is being questioned, it's worth thinking about all the people who've come to this country and made things better, each in their own way. Singer and songwriter Regina Spektor told her tale of coming to America to the Wall Street Journal this week. It's a sweet story from a sweet person. Spektor explained:

I smile a lot. I can’t help it. I come from smiley people. Both of my parents are happy and smiley, and it rubbed off. We’re originally from Russia, where people don’t smile as much as in the States, so we stood out there.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

Read More

Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward