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NVIDIA had the corner on computer graphics for gaming. Industry showed it there was so much more to do.
It’s tech transfer at its finest.
According to Jen-Hsun Huang, chief executive officer of NVIDIA, his company started with a simple mission – to improve 3D graphics so kids could play video games.
It was the vision of engineers from companies like Schlumberger that showed folks at NVIDIA that this was the tip of a very large iceberg.
Huang addressed attendants of the SIS Global Forum in Monaco during the March 14 keynote to give his perspective on how graphical processing units (GPUs) are revolutionizing compute-intense processing workflows.
Huang, who told the audience he wasn’t used to addressing audiences wearing suits, admitted to being a “rookie” in the oil and gas business, but his presentation indicated that his knowledge is improving.
“I’ve been coming to Monte Carlo for some time,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place, and I’ve seen a lot of impressive things.”
He showed a picture of the steep cliffs surrounding the city. “Here is what I used to see,” he said. Then he highlighted an outcrop structure. “Now I see this beautiful strata characterizing years of decay and death, forming layers of sand and shale.”
Huang characterized NVIDIA as “an extreme computing company” that builds processors to solve problems that CPUs can’t solve. “But without the Schlumberger engineers, GPU technology wouldn’t have found its way into solving your problems.”
With input from the oil and gas industry as well as the automotive and medical industries, he said NVIDIA is on its way to taking technology to the exoscale.
Already NVIDIA GPUs are shortening compute cycles in areas such as seismic processing and interpretation and in reservoir simulation. “Things that would have required days can now be finished in an hour,” he said.
The company unveiled the GP/GPU in 2003, and it was this revolution that caught the attention of other industries. But the gaming industry wasn’t left in the shadows. Huang showed a computer racing game called “Daytona” that was popular in the 1990s. Then he showed a modern game demonstrating how much more realistic computer graphics are today.
“We created this for the artistic element,” he said. “It’s not good enough to be accurate -- it has to be beautiful.”
These improved graphics have caught on in the automotive industry, and Huang said he wasn’t aware of a car company that doesn’t use NVIDIA graphics to design its cars. Computer graphics aid in determining wind flow around the car, for instance, or air flow inside it. He added that almost all car ads are computer-generated.
Another breakthrough area is in medicine. Huang showed a system that allows a surgeon to operate on a beating heart by rendering the surgeon’s view as a static screen and manipulating his tools to accommodate the movement of the organ.
Part of what makes the GPU ideal for the intensive compute needs of the oil and gas industry is its design. “We built it to be everything a CPU is not,” he said. For instance, in a CPU, only a small percent is dedicated to mathematics. The throughput process of a GPU makes it a better tool to process mathematical calculations.
NVIDIA is able to devote about $1 billion a year to R&D because of its ravenous gaming audience. “The technology has to be embraced by the market,” he said. “You have to have killer apps; and to have killer apps, you need the sales volume.” That consumer market will continue to grow as GPUs become more entrenched in laptops, smart phones, and even cars.
“That large market, large install base, and large footprint allow us to increase our R&D spending,” he said.
Overall, the development of GPU technology has revolutionized high-performance computing. Huang said that the next supercomputer will have 18,000 GPUs and will increase performance by a factor of 10.
“High-performance computing needs energy to scale up,” he said. “The GPU is a fantastic addition.”
Contact the author, Rhonda Duey, at email@example.com.