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!

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 “pre-exascale” award), parsed out additional information ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tsinghua Crowned Eight-Time Student Cluster Champions at ISC

June 22, 2017

Always a hard-fought competition, the Student Cluster Competition awards were announced Wednesday, June 21, at the ISC High Performance Conference 2017. Amid whoops and hollers from the crowd, Thomas Sterling presented t Read more…

By Kim McMahon

GPUs, Power9, Figure Prominently in IBM’s Bet on Weather Forecasting

June 22, 2017

IBM jumped into the weather forecasting business roughly a year and a half ago by purchasing The Weather Company. This week at ISC 2017, Big Blue rolled out plans to push deeper into climate science and develop more gran Read more…

By John Russell

Intersect 360 at ISC: HPC Industry at $44B by 2021

June 22, 2017

The care, feeding and sustained growth of the HPC industry increasingly is in the hands of the commercial market sector – in particular, it’s the hyperscale companies and their embrace of AI and deep learning – tha Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Creating a Roadmap for HPC Innovation at ISC 2017

In an era where technological advancements are driving innovation to every sector, and powering major economic and scientific breakthroughs, high performance computing (HPC) is crucial to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Read more…

At ISC – Goh on Go: Humans Can’t Scale, the Data-Centric Learning Machine Can

June 22, 2017

I've seen the future this week at ISC, it’s on display in prototype or Powerpoint form, and it’s going to dumbfound you. The future is an AI neural network designed to emulate and compete with the human brain. In thi Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Brings AI and HPC Together on Flagship Supers

June 20, 2017

Cray took one more step toward the convergence of big data and high performance computing (HPC) today when it announced that it’s adding a full suite of big data and artificial intelligence software to its top-of-the-l Read more…

By Alex Woodie

AMD Charges Back into the Datacenter and HPC Workflows with EPYC Processor

June 20, 2017

AMD is charging back into the enterprise datacenter and select HPC workflows with its new EPYC 7000 processor line, code-named Naples, announced today at a “global” launch event in Austin TX. In many ways it was a fu Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion: Deep Learning, AI Helping Drive Healthy HPC Industry Growth

June 20, 2017

To be at the ISC conference in Frankfurt this week is to experience deep immersion in deep learning. Users want to learn about it, vendors want to talk about it, analysts and journalists want to report on it. Deep learni Read more…

By Doug Black

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

Tsinghua Crowned Eight-Time Student Cluster Champions at ISC

June 22, 2017

Always a hard-fought competition, the Student Cluster Competition awards were announced Wednesday, June 21, at the ISC High Performance Conference 2017. Amid wh Read more…

By Kim McMahon

GPUs, Power9, Figure Prominently in IBM’s Bet on Weather Forecasting

June 22, 2017

IBM jumped into the weather forecasting business roughly a year and a half ago by purchasing The Weather Company. This week at ISC 2017, Big Blue rolled out pla Read more…

By John Russell

Intersect 360 at ISC: HPC Industry at $44B by 2021

June 22, 2017

The care, feeding and sustained growth of the HPC industry increasingly is in the hands of the commercial market sector – in particular, it’s the hyperscale Read more…

By Doug Black

At ISC – Goh on Go: Humans Can’t Scale, the Data-Centric Learning Machine Can

June 22, 2017

I've seen the future this week at ISC, it’s on display in prototype or Powerpoint form, and it’s going to dumbfound you. The future is an AI neural network Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Brings AI and HPC Together on Flagship Supers

June 20, 2017

Cray took one more step toward the convergence of big data and high performance computing (HPC) today when it announced that it’s adding a full suite of big d Read more…

By Alex Woodie

AMD Charges Back into the Datacenter and HPC Workflows with EPYC Processor

June 20, 2017

AMD is charging back into the enterprise datacenter and select HPC workflows with its new EPYC 7000 processor line, code-named Naples, announced today at a “g Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion: Deep Learning, AI Helping Drive Healthy HPC Industry Growth

June 20, 2017

To be at the ISC conference in Frankfurt this week is to experience deep immersion in deep learning. Users want to learn about it, vendors want to talk about it Read more…

By Doug Black

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

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

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Facebook Open Sources Caffe2; Nvidia, Intel Rush to Optimize

April 18, 2017

From its F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif., today, Facebook announced Caffe2, a new open-source, cross-platform framework for deep learning. Caffe2 is the successor to Caffe, the deep learning framework developed by Berkeley AI Research and community contributors. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. 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

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

DOE Supercomputer Achieves Record 45-Qubit Quantum Simulation

April 13, 2017

In order to simulate larger and larger quantum systems and usher in an age of “quantum supremacy,” researchers are stretching the limits of today’s most advanced supercomputers. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum. Read more…

By John Russell

Knights Landing Processor with Omni-Path Makes Cloud Debut

April 18, 2017

HPC cloud specialist Rescale is partnering with Intel and HPC resource provider R Systems to offer first-ever cloud access to Xeon Phi "Knights Landing" processors. The infrastructure is based on the 68-core Intel Knights Landing processor with integrated Omni-Path fabric (the 7250F Xeon Phi). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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