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HPC Clusters or High-Performance Computing Clusters are networks or collections of multiple computers, called nodes, that work together to perform complex computational tasks at high speeds and efficiency.

What Is an HPC Cluster – The Complete Answer

HPC clusters are designed to tackle problems requiring immense processing power, such as those in computer-aided engineering, machine learning, scientific research, and weather.

They employ specialized software to schedule and allocate resources efficiently, monitor performance, and manage data storage.

They can be custom-built according to specific requirements and scale from small clusters with just a few nodes to large-scale systems comprising thousands of nodes.

How Do HPC Clusters Work?

HPC clusters utilize parallel computing to reduce the time it takes to solve complex problems. In parallel computing, tasks are divided and executed simultaneously across multiple machines called nodes, using technology such as Message Passing Interface (MPI), which significantly speeds up computations. Problems are sent to individual nodes using low-latency interconnects such as InfiniBand so that all the computers work together as a giant single computational engine.  Specialized software helps map workloads to different computers in the cluster.

Key Components of HPC Clusters

An HPC cluster is composed of computing hardware, software, and facilities.


In a cluster, hardware refers to the physical components that constitute the infrastructure necessary for computational tasks. Here’s a breakdown of the key elements:

Head node – This is a management server that runs the HPC management software, data and compute orchestration, user settings, and other HPC services required to run the cluster.  Computational jobs do not run on the head node, it is for management only.

Compute Nodes – These are the primary units responsible for executing computational tasks. The number of servers needed depends on the scale and workload of the cluster. Nodes can have the similar components as desktops but have additional features such as InfiniBand for low latency communication.

Viz Nodes (Optional) – Viz node are specialized compute nodes that have graphics capability to render high-end graphical applications that require OpenGL.

Login Nodes (Optional) – In larger installations users login to a login node to do command line work. Monitor jobs, and data output.

Storage – HPC clusters have a mix of storage types. Clusters include both local storage within individual servers and high-speed direct attached shared storage systems accessible to all nodes.

Network infrastructure – A low-latency network is crucial for efficient communication between cluster nodes. This infrastructure involves utilizing InfiniBand which is a high-bandwidth and ultra-low latency network.  In addition, there is an Ethernet network for internal management and data transfer.


When it comes to HPC clusters, software represents tools designed to distribute workload to compute nodes called a scheduler, along with software to monitor, image, and manage the entire cluster infrastructure and tasks as a single entity.


Facilities play a crucial role in the operation of a cluster by providing the necessary infrastructure to house, power, and cool the computing hardware. All these elements vary depending on the size of the cluster.

Advantages of HPC Clusters

HPC offers a multitude of benefits to both engineers and business owners:

  • Reduced Time to Solution. Parallel processing power enables the execution of complex computations at remarkable speeds. This enables engineers to run simulations, analyze data, and perform computations much faster than workstations.
  • Lower Costs. While on-premises HPC requires an initial investment, it often leads to cost savings in the long run. By accelerating computational tasks, HPC can reduce the time and resources needed for projects and better utilizes CAE licensing, thereby lowering overall engineering costs.
  • Less Physical Testing. With HPC, engineers can conduct virtual simulations and modeling that accurately mimic real-world scenarios. This reduces the reliance on physical prototypes and testing, which can be costly and time-consuming.
  • HPC empowers engineers to tackle increasingly complex challenges and push the boundaries of innovation.

Applications of HPC Clusters

HPC can be applied in a wide variety of industries, ranging from Computer-Aided Engineering to Weather simulation.

Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE)

HPC is used to run complex simulations and calculations to simulate applications as diverse as airflow over a car, to a cell phone dropping.  These simulations can be executed extremely efficiently with HPC, allowing businesses to better understand and mitigate financial risks.

Other uses of HPC in finance and business include automated trading and fraud detection.

Medical Research & Healthcare

In medical research, HPC enables the analysis of resource-intensive processes such as genome sequencing, drug discovery, and molecular remodeling. Medical research that used to take decades now takes less than a day thanks to HPC.

Additionally, HPC provides huge benefits in the healthcare industry as it helps with the diagnosis of conditions like cancer, and cardiovascular issues.

AI & Machine Learning

AI algorithms based on deep and machine learning require substantial computational resources for training due to their complex architectures and massive amounts of data.

HPC systems enable the parallel processing needed to train these models efficiently, reducing training times massively.


HPC facilitates high-fidelity simulations of airflow over aircraft surfaces, wings, and other components. These simulations help engineers understand complex aerodynamic phenomena, optimize designs for better performance, and enhance fuel efficiency.

Other applications include aircraft structural analysis, space research, solar flare detection, and more.


HPC enables engineers to simulate complex weather patterns using Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF)


For renewable energy sources like wind power, HPC enables high-fidelity simulations of wind flow patterns, turbulence, and energy extraction efficiency. This helps in designing more efficient wind farms and optimizing turbine placement for maximum energy generation.


HPC facilitates advancements in the automotive industry, some examples include self-driving cars and vehicle safety testing.

The proper operation of autonomous vehicles hinges on complex algorithms and real-time computations. HPC infrastructure is indispensable for enabling these vehicles to operate seamlessly, with minimal latency.

Additionally, automotive companies harness the power of HPC to simulate crash tests and evaluate vehicle safety standards.

These simulations provide invaluable insights into how vehicles respond to diverse crash scenarios, empowering manufacturers to design safer automobiles.

Other Applications

High-performance computing accelerates innovation across diverse industries. Its ability to process vast amounts of data and perform complex calculations at high speeds continues to reshape the landscape of technology and science all over the world.

High-Performance Computing (HPC) Clusters vs Other Types of Computing

HPC offers specific characteristics that make it unique compared to other types of computing.

HPC Clusters vs Cloud Computing

Cloud computing involves utilizing HPC clusters that are composed of compute infrastructure that is provided by infrastructure as a service provider such as AWS, Azure, and Google.

Instead of owning and maintaining physical infrastructure, businesses can rent these resources from providers of cloud HPC solutions with a variety of billing options.


  • Both approaches involves the same compute, network, and storage building blocks and technology and are assembled in similar ways.
  • Both approaches provide high-performance capabilities to be used.


  • HPC clusters run in company owned data centers, and typically only have buy or lease options and are a depreciated asset. Most HPC clusters have a 4–5-year cycle.
  • HPC clusters generally have faster data access to on-prem resources such as Workstations.
  • Cloud HPC clusters are able to be created and managed programmatically.
  • HPC clusters take 4-5 weeks to expand since hardware must be purchased and installed, while cloud computing resources can be expanded instantly.

HPC Clusters vs Super Workstations

Super workstations are multi-core high end workstations that are more powerful than standard laptops


  • Super Workstations can run midsize scale out workloads.
  • Both approaches provide high-performance capabilities to be used.


  • HPC clusters allow for larger jobs than fit in a single workstation.
  • HPC clusters run job schedulers to automatically dispatch jobs to free hardware and license resources.
  • HPC clusters can scale from departmental to enterprise support, while a Super Workstation don’t scale beyond a couple engineers that can coordinate access to it.

When to Use an HPC Cluster?

An HPC (High-Performance Computing) cluster is a powerful tool that businesses should consider accessing when they engage in tasks such as simulations, modeling, research, and analysis.

These activities often require substantial computational resources to process large datasets and complex algorithms efficiently.

A few scenarios where getting access to an HPC cluster can benefit your business include:

  • Your current tasks need way more memory or CPUs than what’s available on your current workstation.
  • The program you use takes way too much time to run or you are needing to reduce the fidelity or complexity of your models to achieve a reasonable runtime.
  • You need to run many design iterations to do design exploration/design of experiments in an automated fashion are your PC is limited in how many designs you can explore.

Harness the Power of HPC With TotalCAE

TotalCAE offers comprehensive HPC solutions tailored to meet the needs of engineers and businesses.

Our expertise lies in seamlessly integrating the power of High-Performance Computing (HPC) into your workflows, providing access to state-of-the-art technology without the burden of managing it yourself.

Our managed HPC solutions include on-premises HPC and cloud HPC. To learn more about our solutions, contact us today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about HPC clusters.

What Is a Cluster in HPC?

HPC clusters are designed to tackle problems requiring immense processing power, such as those in computer-aided engineering, machine learning, scientific research, and weather.

They employ specialized software to schedule and allocate resources efficiently, monitor performance, and manage data storage.

They can be custom-built according to specific requirements and scale from small clusters with just a few nodes to large-scale systems comprising thousands of nodes.

Is an HPC Cluster a Supercomputer?

While some supercomputers are built using a clustered architecture, not all clusters qualify as supercomputers. The distinction often lies in the scale, specialized hardware, and level of performance.

Supercomputers tend to be larger and purpose-built for solving the world’s most challenging science problems.

How Do I Connect to an HPC Cluster?

Most clusters have four main connection methods that may be available, web portals, command line,  APIs, or  graphical login nodes.

HPC solutions provider such as TotalCAE  provide you with all of these access methods to an HPC solution with all of your applications pre-integrated for the best access method. You can connect to our solutions with just a few clicks.

How to Build an HPC Cluster?

Most HPC cluster components are commoditized and can be assembled into a HPC cluster architecture, this is the easy part. The most difficult task is taking this hardware and installing all of the required software stacks, getting the CAE applications to work in a distributed fashion, and making the system robust and easy enough to use for day-to-day use by engineers. Many times clients that attempt a do it yourself find that it is very challenging to maintain and keep HPC solutions operating with changing business and application requirements without sufficient in-house expertise.

On the other hand, you can contact an HPC solutions provider such as TotalCAE and they will provide you with access to a turnkey HPC solution setup with all of your applications on delivery, and be there with you for the life of the system to keep it operating at peak efficiency.  They just wheel it in, turn it on, and you are up and running in a few clicks.

Have Questions About HPC Clusters? Contact Us!


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