Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

By Pete Beckman

February 15, 2018

Editor’s note: The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities have spawned community-wide discussion about how to best satisfy the twin, but often competing, mandates for performance and security. In this position paper, Pete Beckman presents a high-level architecture view of how supercomputers and their infrastructure designs could be modified to solve these kinds of issues.

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. Even as these patches are rolled out to current HPC platforms, it might be helpful to explore how future HPC systems could be better insulated from CPU or operating system security flaws that could cause massive disruptions. Surprisingly, most of the core concepts to build supercomputers that are resistant to a wide range of threats have already been invented and deployed in HPC systems over the past 20 years. Combining these technologies, concepts, and approaches not only would improve cybersecurity but also would have broader benefits for improving HPC performance, developing scientific software, adopting advanced hardware such as neuromorphic chips, and building easy-to-deploy data and analysis services. This new form of “Fluid HPC” would do more than solve current vulnerabilities. As an enabling technology, Fluid HPC would be transformative, dramatically improving extreme-scale code development in the same way that virtual machine and container technologies made cloud computing possible and built a new industry.

In today’s extreme-scale platforms, compute nodes are essentially embedded computing devices that are given to a specific user during a job and then cleaned up and provided to the next user and job. This “space-sharing” model, where the supercomputer is divided up and shared by doling out whole nodes to users, has been common for decades. Several non-HPC research projects over the years have explored providing whole nodes, as raw hardware, to applications. In fact, the cloud computing industry uses software stacks to support this “bare-metal provisioning” model, and Ethernet switch vendors have also embraced the functionality required to support this model. Several classic supercomputers, such as the Cray T3D and the IBM Blue Gene/P, provided nodes to users in a lightweight and fluid manner. By carefully separating the management of compute node hardware from the software executed on those nodes, an out-of-band control system can provide many benefits, from improved cybersecurity to shorter Exascale Computing Project (ECP) software development cycles.

Updating HPC architectures and system software to provide Fluid HPC must be done carefully. In some places, changes to the core management infrastructure are needed. However, many of the component technologies were invented more than a decade ago or simply need updating. Three key architectural modifications are required.

  1. HPC storage services and parallel I/O systems must be updated to use modern, token-based authentication. For many years, web-based services have used standardized technologies like OAuth to provide safe access to sensitive data, such as medical and financial records. Such technologies are at the core of many single-sign-on services that we use for official business processes. These token-based methods allow clients to connect to storage services and read and write data by presenting the appropriate token, rather than, for example, relying on client-side credentials and access from restricted network ports. Some data services, such as Globus, MongoDB, and Spark, have already shifted to allow token-based authentication. As a side effect, this update to HPC infrastructure would permit DOE research teams to fluidly and easily configure new storage and data services, both locally or remotely, without needing special administration privileges. In the same way that a website such as OpenTable.com can accept Facebook or Google user credentials, an ECP data team could create a new service that easily accepted NERSC or ALCF credentials. Moving to modern token-based authentication will improve cybersecurity, too; compromised compute nodes would not be able to read another user’s data. Rather, they would have access only to the areas for which an authentication token had been provided by the out-of-band system management layer.
  2. HPC interconnects must be updated to integrate technology from software-defined networking (SDN). OpenFlow, an SDN standard, is already implemented in many commercial Ethernet switches. SDN allows massive data cloud computing providers such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft to manage and separate traffic within a data center, preventing proprietary data from flowing past nodes that could be maliciously snooping. A compromised node must be prevented from snooping other traffic or spoofing other nodes. Essentially, SDN decouples the control plane and data movement from the physical and logical configuration. Updating the HPC interconnect technology to use SDN technologies would provide improved cybersecurity and also isolate errant HPC programs from interfering or conflicting with other jobs. With SDN technology, a confused MPI process would not be able to send data to another user’s node, because the software-defined network for the user, configured by the external system management layer, would not route the traffic to unconfirmed destinations.
  3. Compute nodes must be efficiently reinitialized, clearing local state between user jobs. Many HPC platforms were designed to support rebooting and recycling compute nodes between jobs. Decades ago, netbooting Beowulf clusters was common. By quickly reinitializing a node and carefully clearing previous memory state, data from one job cannot be leaked to another. Without this technique, a security vulnerability that escalates privilege permits a user to look at data left on the node from the previous job and leave behind malware to watch future jobs. Restarting nodes before each job improves system reliability, too. While rebooting sounds simple, however, guaranteeing that RAM and even NVRAM is clean between reboots might require advanced techniques. Fortunately, several CPU companies have been adding memory encryption engines, and NVRAM producers have added similar features; purging the ephemeral encryption key is equivalent to clearing memory. This feature is used to instantly wipe modern smartphones, such as Apple’s iPhone. Wiping state between users can provide significant improvements to security and productivity.

These three foundational architectural improvements to create a Fluid HPC system must be connected into an improved external system management layer. That layer would “wire up” the software-defined network for the user’s job, hand out storage system authentication tokens, and push a customized operating system or software stack onto the bare-metal provisioned hardware. Modern cloud-based data centers and their software communities have engineered a wide range of technologies to fluidly manage and deploy platforms and applications. The concepts and technologies in projects such as OpenStack, Kubernetes, Mesos, and Docker Swarm can be leveraged for extreme-scale computing without hindering performance. In fact, experimental testbeds such as the Chameleon cluster at the University of Chicago and the Texas Advanced Computing Center have already put some of these concepts into practice and would be an ideal location to test and develop a prototype of Fluid HPC.

These architectural changes make HPC platforms programmable again. The software-defined everything movement is fundamentally about programmable infrastructure. Retooling our systems to enable Fluid HPC with what is essentially a collection of previously discovered concepts, rebuilt with today’s technology, will make our supercomputers programmable in new ways and have a dramatic impact on HPC software development.

  1. Meltdown and Spectre would cause no performance degradation on Fluid HPC systems. In Fluid HPC, compute nodes are managed as embedded systems. Nodes are given completely to users, in exactly the way many hero programmers have been begging for years. The security perimeter around an embedded system leverages different cybersecurity techniques. The CPU flaws that gave us Meltdown and Spectre can be isolated by using the surrounding control system, rather than adding performance- squandering patches to the node. Overall cybersecurity will improve by discarding the weak protections in compute nodes and building security into the infrastructure instead.
  2. Extreme-scale platforms would immediately become the world’s largest software testbeds. Currently, testing new memory management techniques or advanced data and analysis services is nearly impossible on today’s large DOE platforms. Without the advanced controls and out-of-band management provided by Fluid HPC, system operators have no practical method to manage experimental software on production systems. Furthermore, without token-based authentication to storage systems and careful network management to prevent accidental or mischievous malformed network data, new low-level components can cause system instability. By addressing these issues with Fluid HPC, the world’s largest platforms could be immediately used to test and develop novel computer science research and completely new software stacks on a per job basis.
  3. Extreme-scale software development would be easier and faster. For the same reason that the broader software development world is clamoring to use container technologies such as Docker to make writing software easier and more deployable, giving HPC code developers Fluid HPC systems would be a disruptive improvement to software development. Coders could quickly test deploy any change to the software stack on a per-job basis. They could even use machine learning to automatically explore and tune software stacks and parameters. They could ship those software stack modifications across the ocean in an instant, to be tried by collaborators running code on other Fluid HPC systems. Easy performance regression testing would be possible. The ECP community could package software simply. We can even imagine running Amazon-style lambda functions on HPC infrastructure. In short, the HPC community would develop software just as the rest of the world does.
  4. The HPC community could easily develop and deploy new experimental data and analysis services. Deploying an experimental data service or file system is extremely difficult. Currently, there are no common, practical methods for developers to submit a job to a set of file servers with attached storage in order to create a new parallel I/O system, and then give permission to compute jobs to connect and use the service. Likewise, HPC operators cannot easily test deploy new versions of storage services against particular user applications. With the Fluid HPC model, however, a user could instantly create a memcached-based storage service, MongoDB, or Spark cluster on a few thousand compute nodes. Fluid HPC would make the infrastructure programmable; the impediments users now face deploying big data applications on big iron would be eliminated.
  5. Fluid HPC would enable novel, improved HPC architectures. With intelligent and programmable system management layers, modern authentication, software-defined networks, and dynamic software stacks provided by the basic platform, new types of accelerators—from neuromorphic to FPGAs—could be quickly added to Fluid HPC platforms. These new devices could be integrated as a set of disaggregated network-attached resources or attached to CPUs without needing to support multiuser and kernel protections. For example, neuromorphic accelerators could be quickly added without the need to support memory protection or multiuser interfaces. Furthermore, the low-level software stack could jettison the unneeded protection layers, permission checks, and security policies in the node operating system.

It is time for the HPC community to redesign how we manage and deploy software and operate extreme-scale platforms. Computer science concepts are often rediscovered or modernized years after being initially prototyped. Many classic concepts can be recombined and improved with technologies already deployed in the world’s largest data centers to enable Fluid HPC. In exchange, users would receive improved flexibility and faster software development—a supercomputer that not only runs programs but is programmable. Users would have choices and could adapt their code to any software stack or big data service that meets their needs. System operators would be able to improve security, isolation, and the rollout of new software components. Fluid HPC would enable the convergence of HPC and big data infrastructures and radically improve the environments for HPC software development. Furthermore, if Moore’s law is indeed slowing and a technology to replace CMOS is not ready, the extreme flexibility of Fluid HPC would speed the integration of novel architectures while also improving cybersecurity.

It’s hard to thank Meltdown and Spectre for kicking the HPC community into action, but we should nevertheless take the opportunity to aggressively pursue Fluid HPC and reshape our software tools and management strategies.

*Acknowledgments: I thank Micah Beck, Andrew Chien, Ian Foster, Bill Gropp, Kamil Iskra, Kate Keahey, Arthur Barney Maccabe, Marc Snir, Swann Peranau, Dan Reed, and Rob Ross for providing feedback and brainstorming on this topic.

About the Author

Pete Beckman

Pete Beckman is the co-director of the Northwestern University / Argonne Institute for Science and Engineering and designs, builds, and deploys software and hardware for advanced computing systems. When Pete was the director of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility he led the team that deployed the world’s largest supercomputer for open science research. He has also designed and built massive distributed computing systems. As chief architect for the TeraGrid, Pete oversaw the team that built the world’s most powerful Grid computing system for linking production HPC centers for the National Science Foundation. He coordinates the collaborative research activities in extreme-scale computing between the US Department of Energy (DOE) and Japan’s ministry of education, science, and technology and leads the operating system and run-time software research project for Argo, a DOE Exascale Computing Project. As founder and leader of the Waggle project for smart sensors and edge computing, he is designing the hardware platform and software architecture used by the Chicago Array of Things project to deploy hundreds of sensors in cities, including Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Syracuse, and Detroit. Dr. Beckman has a Ph.D. in computer science from Indiana University (1993) and a BA in Computer Science, Physics, and Math from Anderson University (1985).

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!

House Bill Seeks Study on Quantum Computing, Identifying Benefits, Supply Chain Risks

May 27, 2020

New legislation under consideration (H.R.6919, Advancing Quantum Computing Act) requests that the Secretary of Commerce conduct a comprehensive study on quantum computing to assess the benefits of the technology for Amer Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to have bipartisan support, calls for giving NSF $100 billion Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers in Neuroscience this month present IBM work using a mixed-si Read more…

By John Russell

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even in the U.S. (which has a reasonably fast average broadband Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Rich Brueckner. His passing is an unexpected and enormous blow to both his family and our HPC family. Rich was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 12, 1962. His Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Computational Fluid Dynamics on AWS

Over the past 30 years Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has grown to become a key part of many engineering design processes. From aircraft design to modelling the blood flow in our bodies, the ability to understand the behaviour of fluids has enabled countless innovations and improved the time to market for many products. Read more…

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the dominant primate species, with the neanderthals disappearing b Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft’s Massive AI Supercomputer on Azure: 285k CPU Cores, 10k GPUs

May 20, 2020

Microsoft has unveiled a supercomputing monster – among the world’s five most powerful, according to the company – aimed at what is known in scientific an Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC in Life Sciences 2020 Part 1: Rise of AMD, Data Management’s Wild West, More 

May 20, 2020

Given the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive enlistment of major HPC resources to fight the pandemic, it is especially appropriate to re Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Epyc Rome Picked for New Nvidia DGX, but HGX Preserves Intel Option

May 19, 2020

AMD continues to make inroads into the datacenter with its second-generation Epyc "Rome" processor, which last week scored a win with Nvidia's announcement that Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hacking Streak Forces European Supercomputers Offline in Midst of COVID-19 Research Effort

May 18, 2020

This week, a number of European supercomputers discovered intrusive malware hosted on their systems. Now, in the midst of a massive supercomputing research effo Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Fujitsu A64FX Supercomputer to Be Deployed at Nagoya University This Summer

February 3, 2020

Japanese tech giant Fujitsu announced today that it will supply Nagoya University Information Technology Center with the first commercial supercomputer powered Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This