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!

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visitors to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the larg Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some cases, city managers didn’t even know existed. Speaking Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Harness Scalable Petabyte Storage with HPE Apollo 4510 and HPE StoreEver

As a growing number of connected devices challenges IT departments to rapidly collect, manage, and store troves of data, organizations must adopt a new generation of IT to help them operate quickly and intelligently. Read more…

SC17 Student Cluster Competition Configurations: Fewer Nodes, Way More Accelerators

November 16, 2017

The final configurations for each of the SC17 “Donnybrook in Denver” Student Cluster Competition have been released. Fortunately, each team received their equipment shipments on time and undamaged, so the teams are r Read more…

By Dan Olds

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster LINPACK Record Shattered! More LINs Packed Than Ever before!

November 16, 2017

Nanyang Technological University, the pride of Singapore, utterly destroyed the Student Cluster Competition LINPACK record by posting a score of 51.77 TFlop/s a Read more…

By Dan Olds

Hyperion Market Update: ‘Decent’ Growth Led by HPE; AI Transparency a Risk Issue

November 15, 2017

The HPC market update from Hyperion Research (formerly IDC) at the annual SC conference is a business and social “must,” and this year’s presentation at S Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Focuses Its Cloud Containers on HPC Applications

November 14, 2017

Having migrated its top-of-the-line datacenter GPU to the largest cloud vendors, Nvidia is touting its Volta architecture for a range of scientific computing ta Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Launches ARM-based Apollo System for HPC, AI

November 14, 2017

HPE doubled down on its memory-driven computing vision while expanding its processor portfolio with the announcement yesterday of the company’s first ARM-base Read more…

By Doug Black

OpenACC Shines in Global Climate/Weather Codes

November 14, 2017

OpenACC, the directive-based parallel programming model used mostly for porting codes to GPUs for use on heterogeneous systems, came to SC17 touting impressive Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

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

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

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

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

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

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

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

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

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

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

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