NDAs Re: [Beowulf] Nvidia, cuda, tesla and... where's my double floating point?

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Mon Jun 16 09:09:04 PDT 2008

At 08:11 AM 6/16/2008, Vincent Diepeveen wrote:
>Reality is that the person who SPECULATES that something is good
>also hides behind a DNA. This is another typical case of that.


>On the one hand claiming a NDA, on the other hand implying that is a
>very good product that will get

Perhaps.. It's also that someone might be under NDA, be involved in 
the technical side of a development, but not be aware of the 
machinations of the marketing side.  I'll bet more than one person 
has seen features added or removed because of "product positioning" 
after they last saw the thing they worked on.  You might toil on a 
project, it gets released to internal manufacturing, and 6 to 12 
months later, it pops out on the market and has significant 
differences from what you last saw.

( At a place I used to work, there were always comments about not 
letting the engineers go to the trade show where the product was 
being demoed..)

>My world is a bit binary there. Especially because of VERY BAD
>experiences in the past.

With NDAs?  (I'm sure lots of people have had less than wonderful 
experiences in that regard)

>Either shut up entirely or do not hide behind a NDA.

That's kind of hard when one has expertise in an area, and one wants 
to correct a misinterpretation or misstatement made by someone 
without as many facts to hand. (On the other hand, there's always the 
risk that the commenter is themself missing part of the story...)

In the other 95% of the cases the reason was that they didn't know a
>fok about what their competitors were gonna show up with.
>Tunnelvision is common. Good products don't need this type of NDA- promotion.

Actually, they do.  In a perfect world, the inherent quality would 
result in the world beating a path to your door to get your 
inherently superior product.  In a real world, you might not have the 
resources to bring the product to market as quickly as someone else, 
so you need time to get IP protection in place, for instance.

>In case of NVIDIA if you google a tad you will figure out that the
>double precision promise has been done more than once,
>many many years ago, and each time we got dissappointed.

Well.. I suspect that you didn't actually pay Nvidia for that 
capability, so the promise is just a marketing pledge, which is of no 
real legal value. (except as noted below).  I can see that Nvidia can 
make a wise business decision to support or not support some 
capability based on the cost to provide it vs revenue they'll get.

(Note that if you're in a situation of market power, and you announce 
capabilities or products that you have no real intention of 
producing, just to scare off the competitors, you can get into 
trouble.  IBM S/360 is a case in point.  Proving it is another matter, eh?)

>Then instead of a $200 pci-e card, we needed to buy expensive Tesla's
>for that, without getting very relevant indepth technical 
>information on how to program for
>that type of hardware.

That's the price one pays for being on the fringes of the 
mainstream.  Go out and pay $10-20K for a custom coprocessor card 
from a small volume company and the mfr will pay a lot more attention 
to you.  For an Nvidia, with a half a billion a year in revenue, the 
niche supercomputing market is a pimple on a pimple on a pimple of 
their behind.

>The few trying on those Tesla's, though they won't ever post this as
>their job is fulltime GPU programming, report so far very 
>dissappointing numbers for applications that
>really matter for our nations.

if they really matter, then serious money needs to be thrown at 
it.  While I'm not generally an apologist for the "fiduciary 
responsibility to the shareholder" mindset, merely because something 
is interesting or intellectually valuable doesn't get it funded.

>Truth is that you can always do a claim of 1 teraflop of computing
>power. If that doesn't get backupped by technical documents
>how to get it out of the hardware if your own testprograms show that
>you can't get that out of the hardware, it is rather useless to start
>  programming for such a platform.

Yep.. that's why *I* always want to see the documents before 
committing significant development resources to a project. More than 
once, I've been burned by someone's great idea that didn't pan out.

>It is questionable whether it is interesting to design some
>algorithms for GPU's; it takes endless testing of every tiny detail
>to figure out
>what the GPU can and cannot do and to get accurate timings.

This can appeal to a certain type of person.  It's like tweaking the 
engine in a car, and one does it, usually, for the challenge, not 
because it's a cost effective way to solve a problem.  It's also 
attractive to someone who has a lot more time than money.

>By the
>time you finish with that, you can also implement the same design in
>FPGA or ASIC/VLSI whatever.

One can, but the cost to make an ASIC is pretty high (figure $1M for 
a spin).  You can buy an awful lot of tinkering and probing time for 
that that million bucks. (about 8000-10000 hours).

FPGAs don't have the flops/watt efficiency that an ASIC can get to, 
although they are getting better.

>As that is of course the type of
>interested parties in GPU programming;
>considering the amount of computing power they need, for the same
>budget they can also make their own CPU's.
>For other companies that i tried to get interested, there is a lot of
>hesitation to even *investigate* that hardware, let alone give a
>contract job to port their software to such hardware. Nvidia for all those
>civilian and military parties is very very unattractive as of now.

Yep.  And for good reason.  Even a big DoD job is still tiny in 
Nvidia's scale of operations. We face this all the time with NASA 
work.  Semiconductor manufacturers have no real reason to produce 
special purpose or customized versions of their products for space 
use, because they can sell all they can make to the consumer market. 
More than once, I've had a phone call along the lines of this:

"Jim: I'm interested in your new ABC321 part."
"Rep: Great. I'll just send the NDA over and we can talk about it."
"Jim: Great, you have my email and my fax # is..."
"Rep: By the way, what sort of volume are you going to be using?"
"Jim: Oh, 10-12.."
"Rep: thousand per week, excellent..."
"Jim: No, a dozen pieces, total, lifetime buy, or at best maybe every year."
"Rep: Oh...<dial tone>"

{Well, to be fair, it's not that bad, they don't hang up on you.. but 
that's the idea... and that's before we get into things like lot traceability}

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