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!

Exascale Escapes 2018 Budget Axe; Rest of Science Suffers

May 23, 2017

President Trump's proposed $4.1 trillion FY 2018 budget is good for U.S. exascale computing development, but grim for the rest of science and technology spend Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hedge Funds (with Supercomputing help) Rank First Among Investors

May 22, 2017

In case you didn’t know, The Quants Run Wall Street Now, or so says a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal. Quant-run hedge funds now control the largest Read more…

By John Russell

IBM, D-Wave Report Quantum Computing Advances

May 18, 2017

IBM said this week it has built and tested a pair of quantum computing processors, including a prototype of a commercial version. That progress follows an an Read more…

By George Leopold

PRACEdays 2017 Wraps Up in Barcelona

May 18, 2017

Barcelona has been absolutely lovely; the weather, the food, the people. I am, sadly, finishing my last day at PRACEdays 2017 with two sessions: an in-depth loo Read more…

By Kim McMahon

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Exploring the Three Models of Remote Visualization

The explosion of data and advancement of digital technologies are dramatically changing the way many companies do business. With the help of high performance computing (HPC) solutions and data analytics platforms, manufacturers are developing products faster, healthcare providers are improving patient care, and energy companies are improving planning, exploration, and production. Read more…

US, Europe, Japan Deepen Research Computing Partnership

May 18, 2017

On May 17, 2017, a ceremony was held during the PRACEdays 2017 conference in Barcelona to announce the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between PRACE in Europe Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NSF, IARPA, and SRC Push into “Semiconductor Synthetic Biology” Computing

May 18, 2017

Research into how biological systems might be fashioned into computational technology has a long history with various DNA-based computing approaches explored. N Read more…

By John Russell

DOE’s HPC4Mfg Leads to Paper Manufacturing Improvement

May 17, 2017

Papermaking ranks third behind only petroleum refining and chemical production in terms of energy consumption. Recently, simulations made possible by the U.S. D Read more…

By John Russell

PRACEdays 2017: The start of a beautiful week in Barcelona

May 17, 2017

Touching down in Barcelona on Saturday afternoon, it was warm, sunny, and oh so Spanish. I was greeted at my hotel with a glass of Cava to sip and treated to a Read more…

By Kim McMahon

Exascale Escapes 2018 Budget Axe; Rest of Science Suffers

May 23, 2017

President Trump's proposed $4.1 trillion FY 2018 budget is good for U.S. exascale computing development, but grim for the rest of science and technology spend Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Offers Supercomputing as a Service, Targets Biotechs First

May 16, 2017

Leading supercomputer vendor Cray and datacenter/cloud provider the Markley Group today announced plans to jointly deliver supercomputing as a service. The init Read more…

By John Russell

HPE’s Memory-centric The Machine Coming into View, Opens ARMs to 3rd-party Developers

May 16, 2017

Announced three years ago, HPE’s The Machine is said to be the largest R&D program in the venerable company’s history, one that could be progressing tow Read more…

By Doug Black

What’s Up with Hyperion as It Transitions From IDC?

May 15, 2017

If you’re wondering what’s happening with Hyperion Research – formerly the IDC HPC group – apparently you are not alone, says Steve Conway, now senior V Read more…

By John Russell

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

HPE Launches Servers, Services, and Collaboration at GTC

May 10, 2017

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today launched a new liquid cooled GPU-driven Apollo platform based on SGI ICE architecture, a new collaboration with NVIDIA, a Read more…

By John Russell

IBM PowerAI Tools Aim to Ease Deep Learning Data Prep, Shorten Training 

May 10, 2017

A new set of GPU-powered AI software announced by IBM today brings automation to many of the tedious, time consuming and complex aspects of AI project on-rampin Read more…

By Doug Black

Bright Computing 8.0 Adds Azure, Expands Machine Learning Support

May 9, 2017

Bright Computing, long a prominent provider of cluster management tools for HPC, today released version 8.0 of Bright Cluster Manager and Bright OpenStack. The Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Last week, Google reported that its custom ASIC Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) was 15-30x faster for inferencing workloads than Nvidia's K80 GPU (see our coverage Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

Since our first formal product releases of OSPRay and OpenSWR libraries in 2016, CPU-based Software Defined Visualization (SDVis) has achieved wide-spread adopt Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a ne 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

Leading Solution Providers

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 Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which w Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling Read more…

By Steve Campbell

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 Eng Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular Read more…

By John Russell

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

As China continues to prove its supercomputing mettle via the Top500 list and the forward march of its ambitious plans to stand up an exascale machine by 2020, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu's Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural networ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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 advance Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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