The Search For a New HPC Language

By Michael Feldman

August 25, 2006

“Every language was a new language at one time. Most are not accepted by the mainstream. Some are adopted for niche applications. Very few have a major impact. The thing to remember is that over the next sixty years (the length of all electronic computing to date), we will write many times as much software than already exists today. The true legacy code is our future not our past…” –Thomas Sterling, June 2006.

Software developers are a diverse lot, but they have at least one thing in common. Eventually they all become attached to one programming language or another. Whether it's the language they were trained on, the one they used to write their first real application, or the one that they've been coding in for the past ten years, sooner or later the programmer forms some sort of emotional bond to their language. It's human nature. People get comfortable with the way they interact with the rest of the world. A software developer's relationship to their favorite language elicits a kind of loyalty. And defensiveness. Promoting your programming language — and trashing the other guy's — is what passes for street hockey in the world of computer science.

This kind of attachment also helps to explain why older languages stay around for so long. When a language gains a critical mass of software applications and libraries, more programmers can leverage this software to develop new applications; and pretty soon you have a large investment in legacy code. At that point, the language acquires a momentum of its own. Fortran, COBOL, Basic, C/C++ and Java are all major beneficiaries of software momentum. Newer ones such as Python and Perl are building their legacy code now. Unfortunately, this model has a downside. Applications and application communities can evolve beyond the capabilities of the original language model.

Maybe more than in any other IT community, HPC developers have suffered at the hands of their own legacy code. The more code that accumulates, the harder it is to switch to a new language. Most supercomputing applications are written in Fortran or C, with some MPI (Message Passing Interface) code tacked on to implement the parallelism. Not only is the MPI parallel model too low-level for productive, large-scale development, but also both C and Fortran lack the type of high-level abstraction — object-oriented constructs, generic templates, type checking, etc. — that is considered essential in modern software engineering.

The HPC community has been attacking this problem from different directions. One of the most promising developments is OpenMP, which parallelizes current languages like C and Fortran, via compiler directives, library routines and environment variables. Vendors such as ASPEED, The MathWorks, Interactive Supercomputing and Intel have developed some interesting proprietary solutions. Another approach has been to actually extend current language semantics to include HPC capabilities. Examples include Unified Parallel C (UPC), High Performance Fortran (HPF), Co-Array Fortran (CAF), Titanium (Parallel Java) and Cilk. But the most ambitious dream has been to develop a modern general-purpose HPC language. The latter is one of the goals that has been embraced by DARPA's High Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) program.

Last month, an HPCS Language Workshop was held at ORNL to get a handle on the state of this language effort — an effort which began in Phase II of the HPCS program. In attendance were Bill Harrod, the HPCS Program Manager, the three vendors (Cray, IBM and Sun), language researchers, and a smattering of people representing government HPC applications. I spoke with Rusty Lusk, principal organizer of the workshop and the Acting Division Director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory, about how this part of the HPCS program will proceed as Phase II comes to a close.

According to him, DARPA is certainly committed to getting a high-level HPC language out of the HPCS program. The program's focus on productivity mandates a more capable software development model. And the stated goal of producing petascale systems will surely require a language model that can scale more easily than the MPI and OpenMP models that are currently available.

Even without the move to petascale systems, the supercomputing community is almost unanimous in its desire to move beyond MPI. Rusty Lusk, the lead driver of the MPICH standard implementation, realizes that a high-level solution is required.

“Nobody loves MPI,” admits Lusk. “When people criticize it, I'll stand up and defend it. But when we developed MPI, the idea was that it would be used to write portable libraries; actual users should never have to confront it. But a user language has never really evolved.”

The languages being developed for HPCS go beyond just an abstraction for MPI. They are designed to incorporate many different kinds of parallelism and should be able to scale from small commodity clusters to petascale supercomputers. The new languages are also being designed to support higher levels of programmability, performance, robustness and portability.

At the HPCS workshop, each of the three companies presented a candid report on the current status of the their language efforts — Chapel (Cray), X10 (IBM) and Fortress (Sun). None of the them have a complete implementation today, or even a finalized language specification. But much to the relief of the vendors, DARPA was willing to continue to fund each of the three language efforts until at least the end of 2007 — regardless of the Phase III selection for the hardware systems. Once the language implementations are completed, and probably even before that, adventurous users will be recruited to start getting some experience with them. However, DARPA would eventually like to see just a single language emerge. In some yet-to-be-defined way, the three solutions will be distilled into one. But not yet.

“It became clear it was premature to try and squeeze them together.” explains Lusk. “Each company had their own take on the problem. And each company was doing very interesting stuff. Bill Harrod along with everyone else thought it would be a shame to curtail this. It would be distracting at best and destructive at worst to make them start muddling their ideas with other peoples'.”

Whatever HPC language emerges, it's bound to run into a fair amount of skepticism. The barrier of legacy code is formidable and the built-in conservatism of many users will slow adoption of any new language. And then there's the problem of getting the support needed from software tools developers — not just for compilers, but also debuggers, libraries and development environments.

But it's not hopeless. Obviously new languages do catch on. Otherwise we'd still be writing all our applications in COBOL and Fortran. The problem is we really don't know how to create a successful language. It's tempting to think that a sort of “technical Darwinism” is at work, where only the most capable software models survive. But plenty of critically acclaimed languages with wonderful features never make it big. Pascal, Ada and LISP come to mind; I'm sure there are others.

Why is this the case?

To answer that it might be useful to think of programming language adoption as a social/business process rather than a technical one. The complexity of how to apply this in the real world is beyond the scope of this article, but a few basic elements should be considered. When designing a language, it is probably worth looking at features such as semantic simplicity (e.g., in Python), backward compatibility to legacy code (e.g., in C++) and interactiveness (e.g., in MATLAB and Python). Beyond the language itself, the support of a powerful, integrated development environment can propel a mediocre language, like Basic, into a widely used one — Visual Basic. Free licensing and open-source models can speed development of compilers and tools, and help spread a language across a large number of platforms, as exemplified by the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC). So successful models do exist.

However, the fact that there is no well-defined formula for introducing a new programming language is probably disconcerting to DARPA and the HPCS language developers. A lot of time and resources are being expended to conceive a useful solution, but broad acceptance into the HPC community is impossible to predict. This doesn't appear to be discouraging DARPA from funding the effort for at least another year and half. Concludes Lusk: “There's a finite possibility that the whole effort will fizzle out. But I hope it doesn't.”

To learn more about the status of the HPCS languages, read the entire interview with Rusty Lusk in this week's issue.

—–

As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at [email protected].

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Supercomputer Research Reveals Star Cluster Born Outside Our Galaxy

July 11, 2020

The Milky Way is our galactic home, containing our solar system and continuing into a giant band of densely packed stars that stretches across clear night skies around the world – but, it turns out, not all of those st Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprised of Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia A100 GPUs, and featuri Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Xilinx Announces First Adaptive Computing Challenge

July 9, 2020

A new contest is challenging the computing world. Xilinx has announced the first Xilinx Adaptive Computing Challenge, a competition that will task developers and startups with finding creative workload acceleration solutions. Xilinx is running the Adaptive Computing Challenge in partnership with Hackster.io, a developing community... Read more…

By Staff report

Reviving Moore’s Law? LBNL Researchers See Promise in Heterostructure Oxides

July 9, 2020

The reality of Moore’s law’s decline is no longer doubted for good empirical reasons. That said, never say never. Recent work by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers suggests heterostructure oxides may b Read more…

By John Russell

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: 1) Industries of the Future (IotF), chaired be Dario Gil (d Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Best Practices for Running Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Workloads on AWS

The scalable nature and variable demand of CFD workloads makes them well-suited for a cloud computing environment. Many of the AWS instance types, such as the compute family instance types, are designed to include support for this type of workload.  Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Penguin Computing Brings Cascade Lake-AP to OCP Form Factor

July 7, 2020

Penguin Computing, a subsidiary of SMART Global Holdings, Inc., announced yesterday (July 6) a new Tundra server, Tundra AP, that is the first to implement the Intel Xeon Scalable 9200 series processors (codenamed Cascad Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This