Startup Aims to Transform HPC Programming

By Michael Feldman

August 11, 2011

Indiana-based MNB Technologies is a small company with big aspirations. The soon-to-be-public corporation is developing an expert-system based development suite designed to greatly simplify the programming of HPC accelerators, in particular FPGAs and GPU. To that end, the company recently announced the beta availability of its flagship product, hprcARCHITECT.

In essence, hprcARCHITECT replaces the grunt work performed by technical programmers to glue the low-level FPGA and/or GPU code to the higher-level application code. The tool offers a visual interface for application developers to design programs independent of hardware concerns. In essence, hprcARCHITECT takes the high-level design and applies it against a software repository of kernels, low-level routines, algorithms and code fragments to build the application.

According the Nick Granny, MNB’s chief technology officer, the rationale for the tool is based on the fact that there are different workflows taking place during application development and they need to be approached differently. The first workflow is the development of the application architecture itself, which requires intimate knowledge of the engineering or science behind that application and a lot of creativity. That has to be performed by a real live person, in this case a domain expert.

The second workflow has to do with creating the low-level algorithms, like FFTs and Smith-Waterman routines, which require hardware expertise to extract the optimal performance. That’s creative too, Granny says, but the algorithms only need to be developed once. After they’re written, they can be shared across many applications via a software library or repository.

The final workflow is bundling the software pieces together into the application. Granny says they came to the realization that given a pre-existing repository, the bundling workflow could be automated with an intelligent programming design tool. “All of a sudden we had this a-ha moment,” he says.

The impetus behind hprcARCHITECT came about a few years ago after the US Air Force solicited a proposal for FPGA algorithms to be used for reconfigurable computing. Granny says they responded not be offering a library, but by throwing out the conventional HPC development process and offering a expert systems-based framework in its place. MNB got the work and delivered its first prototype to the Air Force at the end of February.

In a nutshell, the methodology of hprcARCHITECT is to capture the knowledge of the application architecture in plain English (or French, German, or whatever). This is achieved through a graphical interface consisting a virtual whiteboard and sticky notes in which the designer creates a high-level description of the application. This includes the processes and algorithms to be used as well as the rules, facts, and assertions that define their use. With that in hand, the designer then specifies the computational hardware (specific GPUs and/or FPGAs) and the target system (circuit boards, interconnects, nodes and so on) on which the application will run.

The expert system then maps that description to the available algorithms contained in a repository and glues the application together. The repository is more than just a library of algorithms though. It also consists of a software store (known as the Marketplace), where contributors can submit software components — either open source versions or proprietary one for profit — which can subsequently be accessed by other users. The repository is also where MNB tools, like hprcARCHITECT, can be purchased. Transactions are done via Google Checkout.

Getting a critical mass of useful algorithms for GPUs and FPGAs is key to MNB’s success. In cases where algorithms specified by the application design are not available in the repository, the application designers will be forced to implement these components themselves or contract out for their development.

In general, repository users will pay a token fee for open source code or a buy license for those algorithms contributed in the for-profit model. The cost is determined by the individual contributor, with MNB taking a small commission. Private repositories, developed for use within a specific organization, can also be set up, but don’t include the Marketplace feature.

The initial MNB public repository is the result of the Air Force work, but the company is hoping a little cottage industry will develop where developers will submit their work — free or otherwise — to expand the breadth of algorithms available. Active contributors get access to the repository for free. If they quit being active, then they’ll need to start paying.

The idea of a software repository is certainly not new. A number of HPC vendors offer GPU and FPGA libraries for sale. There are also public libraries available, like netlib.org, a DOE-funded repository of open source routines for science and engineering. High-level development frameworks are available, as well, for both GPUs and FPGAs. What MNB brings to the table is the combination of these components into a single integrated environment.

Although their first customer was in the federal government, the company is aiming the product primarily at HPC users outside the big national labs and R&D centers, in particular, at commercial HPC users, who are buying small or modest-sized systems accelerated with GPUs and FPGAs. Typically these will be sub-$50K machines sitting besides someone’s desk, but with enough computational horsepower to do some serious number crunching. Pharmaceutical firms using HPC for drug discovery or banks doing portfolio risk analysis are two types of organizations making good use of this new breed of accelerated machines.

In general, these types organization don’t have the technical computing talent to deal with exotic hardware like GPUs and FPGAs. The learning curve of programming in Verilog or even CUDA is enough to scare many small organizations away from HPC accelerators. MNB is hoping their turnkey development suite will look attractive to such customers.

To get the product off the ground, MNB is using about $1.5 million in combined funding from the Air Force, Navy, and the State of Indiana 21st Century Research & Technology. The main effort now is being directed at building up the repository. While there are plenty of open source GPU libraries to tap, robust FPGA routines are much harder to come by. “In the open source world of FPGAs, you pretty much get what you pay for,” says Granny.

Currently, he is in discussion with a number of FPGA firms that are interested in getting their libraries supported by MNB. Software components implemented for conventional HPC, i.e., CPU-based, are possible too, given the hardware-independent nature of the framework. “If somebody thinks they have is a market for it, I’ll put it in the repository,” says Granny.

Impulse Accelerated Technologies, an FPGA tool provider, is evaluating the MNB suite for integration with its Impulse-C code generator, a model MNB hopes to generalize with other software tool makers. In general though, the company expects to offer hprcARCHITECT, the repository, and their associated toolset via direct sales, but mostly through VARs.

Granny says the technology is currently being evaluated at “one of the largest privately-funded R&D centers in the country.” He expects the product to be generally available within the next few months.

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!

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 13), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue’s max capacity and doubling 2016 attendee numbers), the one Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art of “The Grand Hotel Of The West,” contrasted nicely with Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Google Cloud Makes Good on Promise to Add Nvidia P100 GPUs

September 21, 2017

Google has taken down the notice on its cloud platform website that says Nvidia Tesla P100s are “coming soon.” That's because the search giant has announced the beta launch of the high-end P100 Nvidia Tesla GPUs on t Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

Cray Wins $48M Supercomputer Contract from KISTI

September 21, 2017

It was a good day for Cray which won a $48 million contract from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) for a 128-rack CS500 cluster supercomputer. The new system, equipped with Intel Xeon Scal Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 13), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art o Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Stanford University and UberCloud Achieve Breakthrough in Living Heart Simulations

September 21, 2017

Cardiac arrhythmia can be an undesirable and potentially lethal side effect of drugs. During this condition, the electrical activity of the heart turns chaotic, Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud, and Francisco Sahli, Stanford University

PNNL’s Center for Advanced Tech Evaluation Seeks Wider HPC Community Ties

September 21, 2017

Two years ago the Department of Energy established the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). CENAT Read more…

By John Russell

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National Laboratory. Kothe is a 32-year veteran of DOE’s National Laboratory System. Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conference in Barcelona. In conjunction with her presentation, Yelick agreed to a short Q&A discussion with HPCwire. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This