HIGH THROUGHPUT COMPUTING: AN INTERVIEW WITH MIRON LIVNY

By Alan Beck, editor in chief

June 27, 1997

  This month, NCSA's (National Center for Supercomputing Applications)
Advanced Computing Group (ACG) will begin testing Condor, a software system
developed at the University of Wisconsin that promises to expand computing
capabilities through efficient capture of cycles on idle machines. The
software, operating within an HTC (High Throughput Computing) rather than a
traditional HPC (High Performance Computing) paradigm, organizes machines
into clusters, called pools, or collections of clusters called flocks, that
can exchange resources. Condor then hunts for idle workstations to run jobs.
When the owner resumes computing, Condor migrates the job to another machine.

  To learn more about recent Condor developments, HPCwire interviewed Miron
Livny, professor of Computer Science, University of Wisconsin at Madison and
principal investigator for the Condor Project. Following are selected
excerpts from that discussion.

---

  HPCwire: Please provide a brief background on the Condor Project and your
role in it.

  LIVNY: "The Condor project has been underway for about 10 years now; I'm
currently head of the effort to further develop the software, implement and
deploy it. We are now also closely tied with NCSA.

  "The underlying idea revolves around the contrast between compute power
which is owned and that which can be accessed. When we started about 15 years
ago, this gap was relatively small. For example, when I joined the department
we had two 780s, and I had accounts on both. These were one MIP machines.
Today, I have a 200 MIP machine on my desk -- and we have 400 machines like
this in the department, although I don't have accounts on them. So for me to
access all these resources I need additional software. The main obstacle this
software faces is the problem of distributed ownership. We were the first to
identify and significantly address this critical issue."

  HPCwire: How?

  LIVNY: "The first step is to discuss with the owner of a resource who,
when, and how that resource can be used by others. Once the owners are happy,
we can move on and deal with the more technical aspects of the system.

  HPCwire: How does the Condor project differ from conventional approaches to
distributed resources?

  LIVNY: "The Condor project is referred to as High Throughput Computing
(HTC) rather than the traditional High Performance Computing (HPC). HPC deals
with floating-point operations per second, and I like to portray HTC as
floating-point operations per year. We believe there are many scientists and
engineers who are interested in the question: 'What can I accomplish
(computationally) in two to six months?' HTC serves a vital role for this
group of researchers.

  "HPC brings enormous amounts of computing power to bear over relatively
short periods of time. HTC employs large amounts of computing power for very
lengthy periods. This is important simply because throughput is the primary
limiting factor in many scientific and engineering efforts. For example, if
you must manufacture a chip, you have a window of about three months to run
as many simulations as you can before bringing the product to market.
Essentially, this is an HTC problem. If you have a high-energy physicist who
is reconstructing events and enriching them with Monte Carlo data, the
project has a year or two to complete, but the more computational resources
that can be brought to bear in that time, the greater will be the statistical
significance attained. This too is an application basically limited by
throughput rather than response time."

  HPCwire: What criteria determine whether HPC or HTC is more appropriate?

  LIVNY: "HPC must be used for decision-support (person-in-the-loop) or
applications under sharp time-constraint, such as weather modeling. However,
those doing sensitivity analyses, parametric studies or simulations to
establish statistical confidence need HTC. We use HTC for neural-network
training, Monte Carlo statistics, and a very wide variety of simulations,
including computer hardware, scheduling policies, and communication
protocols, annealing, even combustion-engine simulations, where 100 or even
1000 jobs are submitted to explore the entire parameter space."

  HPCwire: Given the rapidly growing power of workstations, do you feel HTC
will be able to increasingly address HPC-type problems?

  LIVNY: "Yes, and we already see it happening. For example, our campus has
cancelled a surplus cycle account at SDSC (San Diego Supercomputer Center),
because we were able to fulfill the needs of everyone at the graduate school
who requested HPC resources. If someone just needs two to five months of CPU-
time, we can easily provide it. Only those who require a huge amount of
tightly-coupled memory must go to the HPC end."

  HPCwire: Please detail the work you're doing with NCSA.

  LIVNY: "We play a dual role with respect to NCSA. On one hand, we're a
regional partner, with over 500 workstations here on campus. These will
provide a source of cycles to NCSA and a testbed for scientists who would
like to see how well their applications work in an HTC environment. On the
other hand, we're also an enabling technology, where our experience in
building and maintaining Condor will contribute to the construction of the
National Technology Grid. Thus, we hope we can soon move from a campus-wide
to a nation-wide HTC system."

  HPCwire: How can our readers experiment with Condor?

  LIVNY: "The software is freely available and can be downloaded from our
Website at http://www.cs.wisc.edu/condor  There are also pointers at the NCSA
homepages."

  HPCwire: Do you also foresee Condor moving into a commercial context?

  LIVNY: "IBM's LoadLeveler, which runs on SP, is already a commercial
offspring of Condor. We're currently moving in the direction of NT, and I
believe there will be a significant commercial implication there. We are now
talking with several commercial entities interested in seeing what Condor can
do for their HTC applications. I certainly believe that industry could
benefit from all these idle cycles -- if they only knew how to utilize them.

  "Over the last year we've restructured our software so that it relies less
on Unix-specific functionality. We hope to have the first round for NT by the
end of the summer. Condor normally provides checkpointing of applications and
redirection of I/O, but the first versions for NT will not provide those --
only resource allocation and management. However, our goal for the end of the
year is to have a full-featured supported version for NT.

  HPCwire: Are you planning to create a version fully compatible with both
operating systems?

  LIVNY: "Yes -- although obviously it won't be able to do migrate jobs
between UNIX and NT. Right now we're running across architectures; at UW we
have a heterogeneous environment composed of 6 or 7 different UNIX/flavor
combinations. Soon NT machines will come in as submission sites or
cycle-servers and will co-exist in the UNIX environment. We see no technical
obstacles to this."

  HPCwire: Are there any further points you would like to emphasize?

  LIVNY: "It is very important to be able to harness the enormous amount of
computing power we already have at our fingertips -- whether this is done
through Condor or another way. We have focused too long on the problem of how
to run a single application, and we have not paid enough attention to how to
run 100 or 1000. I have one user at the University of Washington who
regularly submits 2000 jobs at one keystroke."

--------------------
Alan Beck is editor in chief of HPCwire. Comments are always welcome.


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