France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN to Partner on ARM and Exascale

By Nishi Katsuya and John Russell

January 19, 2017

France’s CEA and Japan’s RIKEN institute announced a multi-faceted five-year collaboration to advance HPC generally and prepare for exascale computing. Among the particulars are efforts to: build out the ARM ecosystem; work on code development and code sharing on the existing and future platforms; share expertise in specific application areas (material and seismic sciences for example); improve techniques for using numerical simulation with big data; and expand HPC workforce training. It seems to be a very full agenda.

CEA (Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission), long a force in European HPC, and RIKEN, Japan’s largest research institution, share broad goals in the new initiative. On the RIKEN side, the Advanced Institute of Computation Science (AICS) will coordinate much of the work although activities expected to extend RIKEN-wide and to other Japanese academia.

Perhaps not surprisingly, further development of ARM is a driving force. Here are comments by project leaders from both partners:

  • RIKEN. “We are committed to building the ARM-based ecosystems and we want to send that message to those who are related to ARM so that those people will be excited in getting in contact with us,” said Shig Okaya, director, Flagship 2020 Project, RIKEN. Japan and contractor Fujitsu, of course, have committed to using ARM on the post k computer.
  • CEA. “We are [also] committed to development of the [ARM] ecosystem and we will [also] compare and cross test with the other platforms such as Intel. It’s a way for us to anticipate the future needs of our scientists and industry people so that we have a full working co-design loop,” said Jean-Philippe Bourgoin, director of strategic analysis and member of the executive committee, CEA. Europe also has a major ARM project – Mont Blanc now in its third phase – that is exploring use of ARM in leadership class machines. Atos/Bull is the lead contractor.
Jean-Philippe Bourgoin, director of strategic analysis and member of the executive committee CEA (r); Shig Okaya, director, Flagship 2020 Project, RIKEN

The agreement, announced last week in Japan and France, has been in the works for some time, said Okaya and Bourgoin, and is representative of the CEA-RIKEN long-term relationship. Although details are still forthcoming, the press release on the CEA website provides a worthwhile snapshot:

“The scope of the collaboration covers the development of open source software components, organized in an environment that can benefit both hardware developers and software and application developers on x86 as well as ARM architectures. The open source approach is particularly suited to combining the respective efforts of partners, bringing software environments closer to today’s very different architectures and giving as much resonance to the results as possible – in particular through contributions to the OpenHPC collaborative project.

“Priority topics include environment and programming languages, execution materials, and work schedulers optimized for energy. Particular attention is paid to performance and efficiency indicators and metrics – with a focus on designing useful and cost-effective computers – as well as training and skills development. Finally, the first applications included in the collaboration concern quantum chemistry and condensed matter physics, as well as the seismic behavior of nuclear installations.”

The new agreement, say both parties, “should enable France and Japan to join forces in the global race on this strategic (HPC and exascale) subject. The French and Japanese approaches have many similarities not only in their technological choices, but also in the importance given to building user ecosystems around these new supercomputers.”

Formally, the collaboration is part of an agreement between the French Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science And Japanese Technologies (MEXT). Europe and Japan have both been supporters of open architectures and open source software. It also helps nation each further explore non-x86 (Intel) processors architecture.

It’s worth noting that ARM, founded in the U.K., was purchased last year by Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank (see HPCwire article, SoftBank will Purchase ARM Ltd for $32B).

Steve Conway, IDC research vice president, HPC/HPDA, said, “This CEA-RIKEN collaboration to advance open source software for leadership-class supercomputers, including exascale systems, makes great sense. Both organizations are among the global leaders for HPC innovations in hardware and software, and both have been strong supporters of the OpenHPC collaborative. IDC has said for years, that software advances will be even more important than hardware progress for the future of supercomputing.”

K computer, RIKEN

The collaboration is a natural one, said Okaya and Bourgoin, not least because each organization is leading exascale development efforts in their respective countries and each already hosts formidable HPC resources – RIKEN/AICS’s K computer and CEA’s Curie machine which is part of the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) network of computers.

“One of the outcomes of this partnership will be that the applications and codes developed by the Japanese will be able to be ported and run on the French computer and of course the French codes and applications will be able to be run on the Japanese computer. So the overall ecosystem [of both] will benefit,” said Bourgoin. He singled out three critical areas for collaboration: programming environment, runtime environment, and energy-aware job scheduling.

Okaya noted there are differences in the way each organization has tackled these problems but emphasized they are largely complementary. One example of tool sharing is the microkernel strategy being developed at RIKEN, which will be enriched by use of a virtualization tool (PCOCC) from CEA. At the application level, at least to start, two applications areas have been singled out:

  • Quantum Chemistry/Molecular Dynamics. There’s an early effort to port BigDFT, developed in large measure in Europe, to the K computer with follow-up work to develop libraries.
  • Earth Sciences. Japan has leading edge seismic simulation/prediction capabilities and will work with CEA to port Japan’s simulation code, GAMERA. Bourgoin noted the value of such simulations in nuclear installation evaluations and recalled that Japan and France have long collaborated on a variety of nuclear science issues.

The partnership seems likely to bear fruit on several fronts. Bourgoin noted the agreement has a lengthy list of detailed deliverables and timetable for delivery. While the RIKEN effort is clearly focused on ARM, Bourgoin emphasized it is not clear which processor(s) will emerge for next generations HPC and exascale in the coming decade. Europe and CEA want to be ready for whatever mix of processor architecture landscapes arises.

In addition to co-development, Bourgoin and Okaya said they would also work on HPC training issues. There is currently a lack of needed trained personnel, they agreed. How training would be addressed was not yet spelled out. It will be interesting to watch this collaboration and monitor what effect it has on accelerating ARM traction more generally. Recently, of course, Cray announced an ARM-based supercomputer project to be based in the U.K.

Neither partner wanted to go on record regarding geopolitical influences on processor development generally or this collaboration specifically. Past European Commission statements have made it clear the EC would likely back a distinctly European (origin, IP, manufacture) processor alternative to the x86. Japan seems likely to share such homegrown and home-control concerns with regard to HPC technology, which is seen as an important competitive advantage for industry and science.

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