IARPA/Army Seek New ‘Clean Sheet’ Computer Architecture for Data Analysis

By John Russell

December 14, 2021

Earlier this month, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research issued a call for proposals to build a new computer architecture to handle the growing flood of data.

“Clean sheet designs are needed to address today’s era of explosive data growth,” said IARPA AGILE program manager, William Harrod. “Current computers are designed for yesterday’s compute-intensive applications, not today’s data-intensive problems. Our ability to collect data far outpaces our ability to extract meaningful, timely insights, and AGILE seeks to address this problem.”

Proposals for the new program – The Advanced Graphic Intelligence Logical Computing Environment (AGILE) – are due quite soon, on January 18, 2022.

“The word ‘computing’ is not represented in the acronym for the program title,” Harrod said during the proposer’s day program held last December (YouTube link). “That’s because the program is focused on developing new computer architectures for data-intensive appliacations, not compute-intensive applications, [and] besides the ‘C’ would mess up my acroynym.”

The full description of the program (W911NF-S-0001) is online. Excerpted below is the broad problem statement and objective statement from IARPA’s Broad Agency Announcement:

“The key computational problem is that today’s computers were designed to address yesterday’s compute-intensive problems rather than today’s data-intensive problems. Transforming the massive, unstructured, heterogeneous data streams and structures into actionable knowledge could benefit from a reimagining of computing architectures and technologies – one that places primary focus on data movement, storage, and access of irregular and time-varying structures.

“The data of interest is increasingly sparse, unstructured, and heterogeneous, with minimal locality (it is distributed across the computer), poor data re-use, streaming updates flowing into the system, and fine-grain data movement and parallelism. The computations to be performed are determined by the data with multiple applications simultaneously accessing the same data. These are very different conditions than those characteristic of yesterday’s compute-intensive applications.

“The AGILE program seeks innovative, energy-efficient, reliable computer architectures which can address the DoD’s and the IC’s large-scale data-analytic applications, as well as other classes of large problems. This solicitation focuses on developing new system-level intelligent mechanisms for processing, moving, accessing, and storing large, unstructured, time-varying data streams and structures that allow for the scalable and efficient execution of dynamic analytics workflows.

“Acceptable AGILE system designs must emphasize optimizing the fully integrated system, rather than the independent optimization of individual functionalities (e.g., memory or computation). Supporting research and development for these proposed designs do not need to be constrained by existing component interfaces and protocols, legacy architectures, or current practices. It is anticipated that a “clean sheet” approach to designing a computer system for data- intensive applications will be required to meet the AGILE goals.”

IARPA says the proposed computer system designs must consist of four fundamental functions:

  • Communication – the web that permeates the computer structure to provide mechanisms for moving data and executing message-driven remote actions (between and within the nodes in the AGILE System).
  • Memory – mechanisms for accessing and storing the data.
  • Computation – mechanisms for the execution and flow control of tasks.
  • Runtime – infrastructure for executing system and computational tasks.

Below is the description of the AGILE program scope excerpted from the BAA:

“The AGILE program is envisioned as a 36-month effort with two phases. Phase 1 will last 18 months, and Phase 2 will last 18 months. Overall goals for the AGILE program are to create novel computer architectures and designs that overcome the challenges specified below. The AGILE program will result in the delivery of Detailed Designs, whose performance has undergone rigorous and independent Testing and Evaluation (T&E) using the application modeling and simulation environment described in Section A.2.6 Test and Evaluation (T&E).

“The proposed designs must have the following characteristics:

  • Efficient and scalable when executing large-scale data analytics including streaming analytics;
  • Energy efficient, reliable, and able to support scaling from a deskside system to large multi- cabinet configurations. Energy efficiency should be at least equal to today’s computer systems but higher is preferred;
  • Cost effective. The price of computation should be at least equal to today’s computer systems but less expensive is preferred;
  • Secure from an adversary attacks;
  • Realizable in silicon prior to approximately 2030;
  • The IP utilized in the design must be open sourced or licensable by the US Government; and
  • Able to meet the metrics described in Section A.2.3 Program Metrics and Goals.

“We will release four workflows plus their derivative kernels, and three industry standard benchmarks to drive the research and development of the AGILE system designs. Offerors should propose a research project that develops a computer design driven by the four AGILE Workflows, Kernels and Benchmarks.”

Link to IARPA release: https://www.iarpa.gov/newsroom/article/iarpa-and-army-to-engineer-next-generation-of-computers

Link to program description: https://www.arl.army.mil/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/W911NF-22-S-0001-Advanced-Graphic-Intelligence-Logical-Computing-Environment-AGILE.pdf

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