Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

By John Russell

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. A week earlier, a report surfaced in a Russian media outlet that a group of Russian nuclear scientists had been arrested for using a government supercomputer to mine crypto-currency.

These very public episodes of computer misdeeds are a small portion of a growing and largely hidden iceberg of computer-related dangers with the potential to harm society. There are, of course, many active efforts to mitigate the ‘hacker’ onslaught as well as to use computational capabilities for U.S. national security purposes. Now, a formal effort is ramping up at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL).

Last fall, Adolfy Hoisie then at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was tapped to join Brookhaven’s expanding computing research and to become chair of the new Computing for National Security (CSN) Department. Since then Hoisie has been quickly drawing up the roadmap for the new effort – it’s charged with researching and developing novel technologies and applications for use in solving computing challenges in the national security arena.

The new CNS department is a recent addition to Brookhaven’s roughly three-year old Computational Science Initiative (CSI) which is intended to further computational capability and research at Brookhaven with a distinct emphasis on data science. Brookhaven is probably best known for its high-energy physics research. Most recently its National Synchrotron Light Source II is grabbing attention – it will be the brightest in the world when completed and accommodate 60 to 70 beamlines. Brookhaven also houses RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider), which among other things is currently looking for the missing spin of the proton.

Adolfy Hoisie, Chair, Computing for National Security (CSN) Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Not surprisingly, the synchrotron, RHIC, and a variety of other experimental instruments at Brookhaven produce a lot of data. “We have the second largest scientific data archive in the U.S. and the fourth largest in the world,” said Hoisie, founding chairman of the CSN department. “On an annual basis, data to the tune of 35 petabytes are being ingested, 37 petabytes are being exported, and 400 petabytes of data analyzed. [What’s more] given the scientific community nature of this work, a lot of this data needs to be accessed at high bandwidth in and out of the experimental facilities and the Lab’s storage systems.”

Dealing with that mountain of experimental data is the main computational challenge at Brookhaven and Hoisie noted the CNS mission is ‘highly synergistic’ with those efforts.

“A large spectrum, if not a preponderance of applications, inspired by national security challenges, are in actual fact data sciences problems. It is speed of collection from various sources, whether the volume or velocity of data, the quality of data, analysis of data, which sets performance bounds for [security-related] applications. Just like data being streamed from a detector on an x-ray beam, data that is being streamed from a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) also has the challenges of too much data being generated and not enough bandwidth-to-the-ground in order for it to become actionable information and then make it back to the flying vehicle,” he said.

“The methodologies for data analysis, including machine learning and deep learning, required for national security concerns are very much synergistic with the challenges in data sciences. The spectrum of applications of interest to my department includes intelligence apps, cybersecurity, non-proliferation activities including international aspects of that, supply chain security, and a number of computational aspects of security of the computing infrastructure.”

Hoisie is no stranger to HPC or to building focused HPC research organizations. He joined Brookhaven from PNNL where he was the Director of the Advanced Computing, Mathematics, and Data Division, and the founding director of the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE). He plans to significantly expand the breadth, depth, and reach of the technologies and applications considered, with a focus on the full technology pipeline (basic research through devices, board, systems, to algorithms and applications).

Brookhaven, of course, already has substantial computational resources, a big chunk of which are co-located with the new synchrotron and dedicated to it. Predictably, I/O and storage is a particularly thorny issue and Hoisie noted Brookhaven has a large assortment of storage solutions and devices “from novel solutions all the way to discs and tapes of many generations that require computational resources in order to operate and do the data management.”

Brookhaven Light Source II

Currently, there is a second effort to centralize and expand the remaining computational infrastructure. The new CSN, along with much of the CSI, will be located in the new center.

“The first floor of the old synchrotron (National Synchrotron Light Source I) is being refurbished to a modern machine room through a DOE sponsored project. The approximate size of the area is 50,000 square feet. Significant power will be added to house the existing large scale computing and storage systems, and provide for the ability to grow in the future commensurate with the computing aspirations of Brookhaven. The new facility will also include computing Lab space for high accuracy and resolution measurement of computing technologies from device to systems, and to house computing systems “beyond Moore’s law” that will likely require special operating conditions,” said Hoisie.

Brookhaven has a diverse portfolio of ongoing research some of which will be tapped by CNS. “For example, there’s a significant scientific emphasis in materials design. That includes a center for nano materials, developing methodologies for material design and actual development of materials. We are trying to enmesh this expertise in materials with that in computing to tackle the challenges of computing at the device level,” Hoise said.

Hoisie’s group will also look at emerging technologies such as quantum computing. “That’s an area of major interest. We are looking at not only creating the appropriate facilities for siting quantum computing, such as the infrastructure for deep cooling and whatnot, but also looking at very significantly expanding the range of applications that are suitable for quantum computing. On that we have active discussions with IBM and others. You know, quantum computing is a little bit of a work in progress. I know I am stating the obvious but a lot depends on expanding significantly the range of applications to which quantum computing is applicable. We too often say, yes, quantum computing is very good for quantum chemistry or studying quantum effects in all kinds of processes, and cryptography, but there are many other areas we are trying to explore.”

Industry collaboration is an important part of the plan. In fact, noted Hoisie, “CSI, for example, is partly endowed by a New York State grant and part of the rules of engagement related to the grant and the management structure of Brookhaven [requires] development of a bona fide, high quality, high bandwidth interaction with regional powerhouses in computing including IBM. So we have quite a few ongoing in-depth discussions with potential partners that we hope soon to materialize to tackle together specific technologies.”

Throughout his computing career, Hoisie developed fruitful collaborations with technology providers with many collaborators such as IBM, AMD, Nvidia, and Data Vortex, just to name a few. He expects to do the same now.

Also, the modeling and simulation (ModSim) workshop series he helped organize and run will also continue including through his leadership of it and the participation of his new group. “The series of ModSim meetings will continue. Although I am not on the West Coast now we decided to organize them for continuity in Seattle at the University of Washington. These are events in which we are going to showcase technologies and applications including those national security interests and how ModSim is going to help. We’ve refreshed the committee to expand its base. That will continue as an interagency-funded operation that involves DOE, NSF, and a number of sectors from DoD,” Hoisie said.

Obviously these are still early days for the Computing for National Security initiative. A limited number of projects are still taking shape and there are few details available. That said Hoisie has high expectations:

“We have very significant plans to grow this department. The goal is to bring this Computing for National Security department, which is small at the moment, to the level of a high quality, and the emphasis is on the highest possible quality, of a top-notch national laboratory division level effort.

“This is the way in which we conducted HPC research for decades in my groups. There is the highest quality staff that we hire. There is active integration across the spectrum from technology and systems to the system software to applications and algorithms. And there is a healthy mixture of applied mathematics and computer science and domain sciences that are all contributing to the team effort. And there is a pipeline that we are interested in at all stages: as the technology matures you get more and more into areas that are related to computer science and mathematics and algorithm development and end up in tech development arena. These technologies materialize into boards, devices, systems and then into very large scale supercomputers that offer efficient solutions for solving science or national security problems. We absolutely plan to follow this way.”

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