Filling the Gap

By Michael Feldman

May 11, 2007

The dance between computer hardware and software has been going on for fifty years. In times past though, the relationship was kept at arm's length. The hardware engineers just cranked out the chips and threw them over the fence to the programmers. With the coming of multicore processors, the hardware/software connection has become more intimate. Chipmakers realize that multicore architectures are going to fundamentally change the software model. So if they want to move product, they have to narrow the gap between the hardware and the applications.

And this is happening. To one degree or another, Intel, IBM, AMD, NVIDIA are all partnering with ISVs and research organizations, providing early access to hardware, software support and training. The chipmakers have introduced software support, in the form of compilers and processor interface libraries, to help tool developers bring up code on their hardware. IBM offers an SDK and other tools for the Cell processor; AMD has introduced its “Close to Metal” program for GPU programming; and NVIDIA has its CUDA platform for their GPUs. Although I'm not going to talk much about multicore x86 software support in this article, Intel has a wide range of commercial products, software tools, and educational initiatives to help developers wrap their minds around multicoredness.

In high performance computing, the strategy is beginning to pay off. The most recent example of this is how rapidly development environments appeared for the relatively new IBM Cell BE and general-purpose GPU processors. The chips from the fab were barely cool before PeakStream and RapidMind delivered application development platforms for the new accelerator devices. If these products are successful, they will help create an important synergy between the chip vendors and the software developers.

Using GPUs and Cell processors as stream processing accelerators is creating a good deal of excitement in the HPC crowd. Hardly a week goes by when there's not at least one announcement of someone using these processors to speed up their application. Target workloads include 3D visualization, broadcast encoding, medical imaging, multimedia content generation, image and signal processing, financial analysis, seismic analysis, large-scale database transactions and enterprise search. This corresponds to almost any data-intensive application that requires lots of computational muscle. The broad applicability of these multicore accelerators for HPC has attracted the attention of software developers who would love to exploit this relatively cheap source of hardware.

In announcing their platform this week, RapidMind claimed support for the IBM Cell processor and the latest NVIDIA and AMD/ATI GPUs for high performance computing applications. The company says multicore x86 support is not far behind. Our feature article this week talks about how the RapidMind platform is targeting the hardware-agnostic application developer for these emerging architectures.

Academicians are also taking a hard look at the newer multicore accelerators. At the University of Tennessee (UT), Jack Dongarra and the team at the Innovative Computing Laboratory have been working with the IBM Cell processor. At their lab, a PlayStation3 (PS3) cluster of four systems is being used as a research platform for scientific computing. For the price of around $2400, they have built a system that offers 600 gigaflops (single-precision floating point) of peak performance. Although the PS3 was never designed to be a cluster node for a high performance computing system, its price and ubiquity have attracted HPC folks looking for cheap FLOPS. The UT team is evaluating programming models for the PS3 cluster and is looking at some of the limitations of the architecture for high performance computing.

In the process, the UT researchers have produced a technical report on using the PlayStation 3 as an HPC platform called “A Rough Guide to Scientific Computing On the PlayStation 3” (http://www.netlib.org/utk/people/JackDongarra/PAPERS/scop3.pdf). Less glib than an “IBM Cell Programming For Dummies” but more accessible than your average technical report, the guide should be required reading for developers who are new to technical computing on the Cell processor.

The guide outlines the Cell chip and PS3 hardware capabilities, the system software support available, and how to set up a lab-sized PS3 cluster. It also delves into programming techniques and offers some real-world examples. One of the more useful aspects of the guide is that it discusses a number of commercial and academic software platforms for the Cell architecture. Not meant to be the last word on Cell/PS3 software development, the report manages to give a balanced overview of the technologies currently available. Here's a clip from the introduction:

“As exciting as it may sound, using the PS3 for scientific computing is a bumpy ride. Parallel programming models for multi-core processors are in their infancy, and standardized APIs are not even on the horizon. As a result, presently, only hand-written code fully exploits the hardware capabilities of the CELL processor. [Editor's note: RapidMind would certainly dispute this.] Ultimately, the suitability of the PS3 platform for scientific computing is most heavily impaired by the devastating disproportion between the processing power of the processor and the crippling slowness of the interconnect, explained in detail in section 9.1. Nevertheless, the CELL processor is a revolutionary chip, delivering ground-breaking performance and now available in an affordable package. We hope that this rough guide will make the ride slightly less bumpy.”

The report contains a good discussion of the limitations of the PS3 for scientific computing including the memory bandwidth and capacity, the network interconnect speed, and shortcomings of the floating point implementation. These issues are discussed in more technical detail in a companion report: Limitations of the PlayStation 3 for High Performance Cluster Computing (http://www.netlib.org/utk/people/JackDongarra/PAPERS/ps3-summa-2007.pdf).

Some of the floating point weaknesses that limit the Cell's use in scientific computing are going to be addressed in future generations of the processor. According to the UT report, IBM is planning to pump up the double-precision performance from 14 to 102 gigaflops in the next implementation — no word if IEEE 754 floating point support issues will be addressed as well.

GPUs have similar floating point limitations. If NVIDIA and AMD want to penetrate the technical computing market with GPUs, they're going to have to make some decisions about floating point capabilities on these devices. Neither vendor offers any double precision hardware today, and IEEE 754 compliance is still a work in progress. However, NVIDIA's newest G80 device has included some support for rounding modes, overflow and NaN. (For a good discussion of floating point precision issues, read Michael Wolfe's article in this week's Feature section.)

The question here is how far will NVIDIA and AMD evolve their GPU architectures away from their graphics roots in order to support scientific floating point capabilities. The GPU engineers will also have to consider memory error correction and lower power consumption to offer a more robust HPC solution.

The market should be able to figure out how to balance this tension between application requirements and hardware capabilities. Although I've expressed my doubts about the capitalistic approach to cutting-edge supercomputing, that's not the case for commercial HPC. If GPUs and Cell processors were not applicable to industrial HPC applications, companies like PeakStream and RapidMind wouldn't exist, and researchers like Jack Dongarra would probably be working on something else. If the HPC software community figures out how to leverage the current generation of multicore hardware and starts to build a user base, the chipmakers will dance a little closer to the software.

—–

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!

ABB Upgrades Produce Up to 30 Percent Energy Reduction for HPE Supercomputers

June 6, 2020

The world’s supercomputers are currently allied in a common goal: defeating COVID-19. To analyze the billions upon billions of molecules that might produce helpful therapeutics (or even a vaccine), an unimaginable amou Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputers Take to the Solar Winds

June 5, 2020

The whims of the solar winds – charged particles flowing from the Sun’s atmosphere – can interfere with systems that are now crucial for modern life, such as satellites and GPS services – but these winds can be d Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC in O&G: Deep Sea Drilling – What Happens Now   

June 4, 2020

At the beginning of March I attended the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. That seems a long time ago now. It’s a great event where oil and gas specialists join with compute veterans and the discussion tell Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

NCSA Wades into Post-Blue Waters Era with Delta Supercomputer

June 3, 2020

NSF has awarded the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) $10 million for its next supercomputer - named Delta – “which will kick-start NCSA’s next generation of supercomputers post-Blue Waters,” Read more…

By John Russell

Dell Integrates Bitfusion for vHPC, GPU ‘Pools’

June 3, 2020

Dell Technologies advanced its hardware virtualization strategy to AI workloads this week with the introduction of capabilities aimed at expanding access to GPU and HPC services via its EMC, VMware and recently acquired Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Solution Channel

Join AWS, Univa and Intel for This Informative Session!

Event Date: June 18, 2020

More enterprises than ever are turning to HPC cloud computing. Whether you’re just getting started, or more mature in your use of cloud, this HPC Cloud webinar is an excellent opportunity to gain valuable insights and knowledge to help accelerate your HPC cloud projects. Read more…

Supercomputers Streamline Prediction of Dangerous Arrhythmia

June 2, 2020

Heart arrhythmia can prove deadly, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from cardiac arrest in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, many of those arrhythmia are induced as side effects from various medicati Read more…

By Staff report

NCSA Wades into Post-Blue Waters Era with Delta Supercomputer

June 3, 2020

NSF has awarded the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) $10 million for its next supercomputer - named Delta – “which will kick-start NCS Read more…

By John Russell

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of comp Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI Read more…

By Doug Black

$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

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

HPCwire and all of the Tabor Communications family are saddened by last week’s passing of Rich Brueckner. He was the ever-optimistic man in the Red Hat presiding over the InsideHPC media portfolio for the past decade and a constant presence at HPC’s most important events. Read more…

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

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

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

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

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. 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

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

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

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

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

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