The Week in Review

By John E. West

February 23, 2007

Here's a collection of highlights, selected totally subjectively, from this week's HPC news stream as reported at insideHPC.com and HPCwire.

>>NVIDIA tries to make stream programming on GPUs a little easier

NVIDIA announced the beta release of the NVIDIA CUDA Software Developer Kit (SDK) and a C-compiler for computing on NVIDIA graphics processing units (GPUs). This release is targeted at Windows XP and Redhat and the GeForce 8800 graphics card, and includes FFT and BLAS reference implementations.

The aim of the SDK is to let programmers get at the stream-y power of the GPU in C, without having to first express their algorithms as graphics code. If stream programming is going to break out of a dedicated few, this kind of development is important. There are lots of types and directives to pile into the code to make it work, though, and it's all got to be compiled with their purpose-built C compiler. More info, with examples, at the CUDA homepage.

>>Building an understanding of the brain

There was news this week of new and continuing efforts by researchers to use HPC to understand more about the brain. These efforts have basic and very practical implications for medicine and knowledge. We lack even a basic understanding of how human consciousness evolves, and this is a topic tackled by researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland, who are using an 8,000 processor IBM Blue Gene as part of an experiment to connect computer chips in a neuron-by-neuron model of the cerebral cortex of young rats. The model replicates the physical structure of this part of the rat brain even down to the branched tree-like structure of the synapses.

A newer effort was also announced this week in Stockholm. A partnership between IBM and the Stockholm Brain Institute (SBI) will put a Blue Gene into the hands of the SBI along with a high resolution PET (positron emission tomography) camera in an attempt to understand both basic and applied problems related to the brain and its function. According to the joint announcement this week, such research is attacked from three angles: development and aging, gender differences, and brain diseases (Alzheimer's, schizophrenia or ADHD).

>>Frances Allen receives ACM Turing Award

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, has named Frances E. Allen the recipient of the 2006 A.M. Turing Award for contributions that fundamentally improved the performance of computer programs in solving problems, and accelerated the use of high performance computing. This year's award marks the first time that a woman has received this honor.

The Turing Award is ACM's most prestigious technical award. The $100,000 prize is given to those whose lasting contributions have helped shape the foundations of computing. Previous recipients are a who's who of computing, including Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Marvin Minsky, Donald Knuth, Fred Brooks, and a whole bunch of other household names — that is, if your household includes a computer scientist.

>>Bucket o'news

Sun announced its new network 10 Gig E interface card designed to allow its multi-threaded processors running Solaris to control quality of service levels between application threads and the network. Sun's announcement here, and coverage at The Register about Sun's, er, unusual launch marketing for this product.

AMD announced a single core, low power (45 watts) version of its Athlon 64 offering for users concerned about power consumption on the desktop. There aren't a lot of people talking about this yet, but you can read AMD's announcement here.

Google, the arbiter of most things big in the IT world, is hosting a conference on scalability this June 23rd at their offices in Seattle. The aim of the conference is to “create a collegial atmosphere for participants to brainstorm different ways to build the robust systems that can handle, literally, a world of information.” Slightly more info here.

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John West summarizes the headlines in HPC every day at insideHPC.com, and writes on leadership and career issues for technology professionals at InfoWorld and on his own blog at http://onlytraitofaleader.com/. You can contact him at [email protected].

www.onlytraitofaleader.com  Leadership and career skills to help scientists, engineers, and technologists find success doing what they love to do. No time to keep up? Subscribe to the RSS feed!

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