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!

Microsoft, Nvidia Launch Cloud HPC

November 20, 2019

Nvidia and Microsoft have joined forces to offer a cloud HPC capability based on the GPU vendor’s V100 Tensor Core chips linked via an Infiniband network scaling up to 800 graphics processors. The partners announced Read more…

By George Leopold

Hazra Retiring from Intel Data Center Group, Successor Unknown

November 20, 2019

This article is an update to a story published earlier today. Rajeeb Hazra, corporate VP of Intel’s Data Center Group and GM for the Enterprise and Government Group, is retiring after more than 24 years at the compa Read more…

By Doug Black

Jensen Huang’s SC19 – Fast Cars, a Strong Arm, and Aiming for the Cloud(s)

November 20, 2019

We’ve come to expect Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s annual SC keynote to contain stunning graphics and lively bravado (with plenty of examples) in support of GPU-accelerated computing. In recent years, AI has joined the s Read more…

By John Russell

SC19 Student Cluster Competition: Know Your Teams

November 19, 2019

I’m typing this live from Denver, the location of the 2019 Student Cluster Competition… and, oh yeah, the annual SC conference too. The attendance this year should be north of 13,000 people, with the majority attende Read more…

By Dan Olds

Top500: US Maintains Performance Lead; Arm Tops Green500

November 18, 2019

The 54th Top500, revealed today at SC19, is a familiar list: the U.S. Summit (ORNL) and Sierra (LLNL) machines, offering 148.6 and 94.6 petaflops respectively, remain in first and second place. The only new entrants in t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Data Management – The Key to a Successful AI Project

 

Five characteristics of an awesome AI data infrastructure

[Attend the IBM LSF & HPC User Group Meeting at SC19 in Denver on November 19!]

AI is powered by data

While neural networks seem to get all the glory, data is the unsung hero of AI projects – data lies at the heart of everything from model training to tuning to selection to validation. Read more…

ScaleMatrix and Nvidia Launch ‘Deploy Anywhere’ DGX HPC and AI in a Controlled Enclosure

November 18, 2019

HPC and AI in a phone booth: ScaleMatrix and Nvidia announced today at the SC19 conference in Denver a joint offering that puts up to 13 petaflops of Nvidia DGX-1 compute power in an air conditioned, water-cooled ScaleMa Read more…

By Doug Black

Hazra Retiring from Intel Data Center Group, Successor Unknown

November 20, 2019

This article is an update to a story published earlier today. Rajeeb Hazra, corporate VP of Intel’s Data Center Group and GM for the Enterprise and Governm Read more…

By Doug Black

Jensen Huang’s SC19 – Fast Cars, a Strong Arm, and Aiming for the Cloud(s)

November 20, 2019

We’ve come to expect Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s annual SC keynote to contain stunning graphics and lively bravado (with plenty of examples) in support of GPU Read more…

By John Russell

Top500: US Maintains Performance Lead; Arm Tops Green500

November 18, 2019

The 54th Top500, revealed today at SC19, is a familiar list: the U.S. Summit (ORNL) and Sierra (LLNL) machines, offering 148.6 and 94.6 petaflops respectively, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ScaleMatrix and Nvidia Launch ‘Deploy Anywhere’ DGX HPC and AI in a Controlled Enclosure

November 18, 2019

HPC and AI in a phone booth: ScaleMatrix and Nvidia announced today at the SC19 conference in Denver a joint offering that puts up to 13 petaflops of Nvidia DGX Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first plann Read more…

By John Russell

SC19: Welcome to Denver

November 17, 2019

A significant swath of the HPC community has come to Denver for SC19, which began today (Sunday) with a rich technical program. As is customary, the ribbon cutt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC19’s HPC Impact Showcase Chair: AI + HPC a ‘Speed Train’

November 16, 2019

This year’s chair of the HPC Impact Showcase at the SC19 conference in Denver is Lori Diachin, who has spent her career at the spearhead of HPC. Currently deputy director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Exascale Computing Project (ECP), Diachin is also... Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx vs. Intel: FPGA Market Leaders Launch Server Accelerator Cards

August 6, 2019

The two FPGA market leaders, Intel and Xilinx, both announced new accelerator cards this week designed to handle specialized, compute-intensive workloads and un Read more…

By Doug Black

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

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