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Because the main data center chipmakers have barred Russia from using devices of the next generation, not to mention the withdrawal of mobile and software manufacturers from that market, it should come as no surprise that experts in Russia are working feverishly to devise workarounds for the new technologies that will drive the rest of the globe.
This is important for Russia right now, but it’s likely that these efforts will lead to similar ones in China, which is also used for tech-related sanctions, as we’ve seen with Huawei, for example.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, the US government stopped sending key technologies, like semiconductors, to Russia last week. At least AMD, Intel, TSMC, and GlobalFoundries are chipmakers that are following US export controls by stopping shipments to Russia. Dell, HP, and Lenovo have also stopped sending products to the country. Oracle and SAP stopped doing business last night.
Since Wednesday, when key Russian banks were kicked out of the system, police have been watching over the Swiss data center that the financial messaging service SWIFT uses.
The effects of these sanctions can’t be overstated because they affect everything from Russia’s most powerful supercomputers to enterprise systems and the wider world of mobile for both businesses and consumers.
“In the meantime,” says Andrei Sukhov, a professor and head of the CAD lab at HSE University in Moscow, “stating the problem is not enough. It is necessary to look for a quick way out of the situation by using resources that are already there.”
In a timely article for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Sukhov talks about how Russian computer science teams are looking at building the next generation of clusters with older clustering technologies and a lot of open-source software for managing everything from code portability to parallelization, as well as standards like PCIe 3.0, USB 4, and even existing Russian knock-off buses inspired by Infiniband (Angara ES8430).
Such systems would have to be based on what is easily available in terms of processing and networking. Russia (and China, if it comes down to it) have better native mobile options than other countries.
For some background on the top end of computing, Russia has seven supercomputers on the Top500 list, with the 199-node super Chervonenkis ranking 19th. Chervonenkis uses AMD Epyc processors with Nvidia A100 accelerators. Without important parts like the InfiniBand, an integrator can’t do much.
As it turns out, the next three most powerful machines (36, 40, and 43) all have AMD processors and Nvidia accelerators in similar configurations.
“These devices aren’t the most powerful, but their production is completely independent and doesn’t hurt the patent rights of American or European companies,” Sukhov said.
Even though all the pieces may be in place, new boards still need to be made. Sukhov said that this problem could be solved by using wireless protocols to switch between processors, even though this would mean that network latency would be low, making it hard to do true tightly coupled, low-latency HPC simulations (which come in handy in areas like nuclear weapons simulations, as just one example).
“Given that the available mobile systems-on-chip are on the order of 100 Gflops, small clusters of high-performance systems-on-chip can easily reach the performance of several teraflops,” Sukhov said.
“Using standard open operating systems like Linux will make it much easier to use custom applications and make it possible for such systems to run in the near future. It is possible for these clusters to be heterogeneous, with different systems-on-chip for different tasks (or, for example, FPGAs to create specialized accelerators for specific tasks that can be changed on the fly).”
In a brief conversation after the article, he told The Register, “No special problems are expected with the supercomputers that are already up and running. Based on Linux, these supercomputers can keep running even without the help of the companies that made the hardware and software. So far as I know, all scientific supercomputers, even ones that are more than five years old, are run in normal mode. Only hacker attacks or forced control commands can stop them. But I don’t know about such actions in relation to scientific projects, like supercomputers.”
“Obviously, Russia won’t be able to make a new supercomputer in the next few years. Still, the way we’ve suggested could be used to meet all of the current needs in computing and data processing. Especially if we use different types of hardware acceleration for different tasks, “he adds.
“Note that our proposed method is meant to be put into action quickly as a pilot project. During this implementation, software solutions, new protocols for exchanging data, and new computer technologies will be worked out.
“In the future, the cluster device will be able to be improved (for example, to try to launch the release of a new motherboard, which will host several chips connected by a common bus).
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