Intel Debuts ‘Knights Landing’ Ninja Developer Platform

By Tiffany Trader

April 12, 2016

Intel is making good on its promise to offer Knights Landing-based developer platforms ahead of general availability. Systems based on the self-hosted version of the 2nd generation Phi processor are now available for pre-order as part of Intel’s developer-targeted early access program.

As detailed on a landing page that went live yesterday, the Ninja Developer Platform is offered in two configurations – a liquid-cooled desk-side machine with one Knights Landing (base price:  $4,982.88), and a rack system with 2U and four nodes (base price: $19,703.14). Both versions employ the socketed Knights Landing Phi processors, not the PCIe-based coprocessor cards, and each platform comes fully configured with memory, local storage, CentOS 7.2, and Intel tools and guides. Support is provided from the system-builder Colfax (or local OEMs). There are options to customize the platform to meet application memory or storage needs and each package comes with a one-year license for Intel Parallel Studio XE Professional Edition.

This is the first opportunity to get hands-on access to a Knights Landing processor as a software developer other than the large machines that have been shipped, confirmed Chief Evangelist of Intel Software Products James Reinders in an interview with HPCwire. Reinders noted that distributing seed machines is pretty common for Intel (the company made preproduction systems with “Knights Ferry” silicon available to select partners ahead of the “Knights Corner” launch), but what is less common is for Intel to promote a software development machine for purchase. (It’s worth noting that Intel-competitor NVIDIA is using a similar strategy to manage its Pascal-based Tesla P100 GPU rollout by restricting initial availability to those who purchase the 8-GPU DGX-1 “deep learning supercomputer.”)

“We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries because taking Xeon Phi to be a processor is very exciting,” said Reinders. “The community has been very interested to get their hands on them so we’ve put this program together to satisfy that need with these parallelized systems before we’ve officially launched Knights Landing.”

Intel KNL platform pedestal CSE-GS50-000B
Ninja Developer Platform Pedestal

Intel is targeting two types of developers with this program: the moderately experienced parallel programmer who wants to do “kick the tire” evaluations and the expert parallel programmer who is already familiar with Xeon Phi.

“We can satisfy both,” said Reinders. “Between us and Colfax, the company who is building and distributing this machine, there is excellent introductory material. We will try to make sure that everyone who gets one of these systems have all the training they need between their classes and the resources we have already.”

While Reinders believes the machine will be approachable for a range of skill-levels, the “Ninja Development platform” moniker is meant to convey the machine’s suitability for the elite user. “We’re trying to assure people that no matter what your level of knowledge is — even if you’re a top expert — that these systems are ready to go for you,” Reinders explained. “But there is also plenty of training available by anyone with some parallel programming experience,” he added.

When asked about the newer HPC user, Reinders said that while he wasn’t sure how many people would be in a position to buy a four thousand dollar-plus machine as their first one to learn parallel programming on – what he does expect is that the 72-cores will motivate developers to unlock performance speedups.

“What happens when you get a large number of cores, you get a lot of vector units and you need to address the scalability of your code. If someone has eight cores, and is running at 7X, it’s hard to get real excited about inching 7X up to 8X,” he explained. “When you start talking about running 40 or 50 or 60 cores, that difference gets to be larger. It really gives you motivation to go after that. You can do that on a Xeon machine – you can buy a two-way, 18-core Xeon with hyper-threading and be sitting there as if you had 72 hardware threads, but that would be a much more expensive machine, so I think that this platform probably will get some people very exciting about working on the scaling of their code. It’s an excellent platform for that and of course the tuning work that you do will help with running on Xeon cluster as well as a Xeon Phi.”

Intel KNL platform rack
Ninja Developer Platform Rack

Knights Landing uses a 14 nm process and provides more than three teraflops of peak double-precision floating point performance and 8 teraflops of single-precision. Reinders clarified that the three early systems that Intel shipped last year (to Cray, Sandia National Laboratories, and CEA in France) all use the preproduction A.0-step silicon, while the Ninja developer platform is based on the newer B.0 stepping.

Three Knights Landing-based systems (all Crays) are on track to be deployed this year: the phase II Cori machine is scheduled to be deployed at NERSC in mid-2016; Trinity is gearing up for acceptance this year at Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Argonne National Lab’s Theta system is scheduled for deployment in late-2016.

Intel expects the Ninja Developer Platform systems will start shipping in Q2 and as early as next month. The company is taking pre-orders now. To support developers, Intel in partnership with Colfax is offering one-hour webinars as well as web-based “hands-on workshops” available free of charge. For people who take the hands-on classes, Colfax provides remote access to Phi-based (Knights Corner) machines.

“When you do the remote access, it’s like going to a hands-on class because they configure the machines for you,” noted Reinders, “In fact, when you work with this class of machine, often you sit down in the class and open your laptop and log in to a remote machine anyway. So doing this over the Web isn’t that different, in fact it feels much the same except you didn’t have to do the traveling.”

As for the general Knights Landing launch, Reinders was mum about the date, but he did hint that more would be revealed at ISC in June. At SC15, Intel revealed that 50 different manufacturers were readying to release Knights Landing-based systems.

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