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October 2, 2014

In Support of Open Source

Tiffany Trader
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The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Task Force on Next Generation High Performance Computing (HPC) released a report in August addressing the steps required to deliver next generation leading edge HPC. Some careful readers were puzzled by a section on “open source.”

“There has been very little open source that has made its way into broad use within the HPC commercial community where great emphasis is placed on serviceability and security,” reads the relevant text. “Investments in open source or other policy actions to stimulate creation are likely to produce a disproportionate benefit accruing to the Chinese.”

Yesterday, Kitware President Will Schroeder published his response to this commentary, titled “What the Report Should Have Said” on the company’s blog page.

“While there is much to like about this report,” Schroeder writes. “I was disappointed with the brief content relative to open source, especially as Kitware’s open source HPC efforts are making significant impacts in many areas of importance to the Department of Energy.”

Schroeder thought it prudent to point out some of the many positive impacts of open source in HPC.

He starts off by presenting several counter arguments to the claim that “There has been very little open source that has made its way into broad use within the HPC commercial community where great emphasis is placed on serviceability and security.”

The most obvious of these is the Linux operating system, used by almost all HPC systems. MPICH, OpenMPI, and their variants are examples of other open source tools that “facilitate scalable, distributed computing and have supported decades of research, including spinning off multiple derivatives that have made their way into commercial offerings by big name vendors such as Cray, IBM, and Intel,” says Schroeder.

He also lists HDF5, a widely used portable file format and data model, and the open source tools VTK, ParaView, and VisIt.

“Further,” adds Schroeder, “open source approaches also address the most daunting HPC technical challenge that we have before us: addressing software scalability.”

“Emerging computational software is more complex than ever and for scaling purposes requires tight integration across multiple systems. Open source supports integration by minimizing barriers due to IP, cost, and API mismatch. With open source, code can be easily modified and extended so that software can be readily combined to build emerging, complex computational systems addressing challenges such as multi-physics and optimization.”

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