Logo: University of Southern California

Viterbi School Leads DOE-Funded Effort to Make Supercomputing More User-Friendly

Ten other elite universities and labs will join the five-year $15M SUPER project
By: Eric Mankin
January 25, 2013 —

Robert Lucas of the Viterbi School’s Information Sciences Institute will lead a Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE OS) initiative to improve supercomputing technology.

SUPER Director Bob Lucas
The DOE OS recently announced five-year funding totalling $15 million for the Institute for Sustained Performance, Energy and Resilience (SUPER).

SUPER builds on the  Performance Engineering Research Institute (PERI), which Lucas led for the past five years. Like PERI, SUPER is part of the DOE OS Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) initiative.

The other SUPER participant institutions include Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of California, San Diego, the University of Tennessee, the University of North Carolina, the University of Oregon, the University of Utah, the University of Maryland, and the University of Texas at El Paso.  Additionally, SUPER researchers will engage in collaborations with other SciDAC institutes as well as with the broader DOE computational sciences community, according to Lucas.

The problems SUPER will attack have a paradoxical origin. "The more successful computer scientists are in building massively parallel machines," says Lucas, "the harder these machines are to use, even for IT trained scientists and engineers."

As the SUPER plan notes, “Achieving good performance on high-end computing systems is growing ever more challenging due to enormous scale, increasing architectural complexity, and increasing application complexity. Extrapolating five years, we anticipate that vastly increased scale (e.g., more chips, more cores per chip) and greater heterogeneity will exacerbate performance optimization challenges while simultaneously promoting the issues of energy consumption and resilience."

“We have chosen," the proposal continues, "to organize a broadly based project with expertise in compilers and other system tools, performance engineering, energy management, and resilience. We are following the successful model that we developed in PERI of leveraging the research investments DOE and others have made and integrating the results to create new capabilities beyond the reach of any one group.”

"SUPER research directions include

  1. Performance portability: We will further extend PERI’s performance measurement, modeling and autotuning technology to petascale and heterogeneous systems, thus permitting scientists to exploit a wide range of high-end systems from a common code base.
  2. Energy efficiency: Relatively minor code changes can enable significant energy savings in some applications with little or no impact on performance. We will investigate application-level energy efficiency techniques to help reduce DOE’s energy costs.
  3. Resilience: Petascale calculations are pressing the limits of reliability in both hardware and system software. We will explore strategies to enable petascale applications to be resilient in the face of faults.
  4. Optimization: We will build on tools from the mathematical optimization community to develop strategies that collectively optimize performance, energy efficiency and resilience. This work will involve optimization models for different components and the use of multi-objective optimization techniques."

SUPER researchers presented a number of papers at the SC11 International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis held in November 2011 in Seattle, Wash.

Lucas noted that massive scaling appears to be the path which will lead to the next generation of supercomputers, and is expected to lead to exascale systems by the end of the decade, “but the looming end of Moore's Law makes it imperative to consider alternatives.”

One alternative: USC and Lockheed Martin have formed a joint Quantum Computation Center and have taken delivery of a D-Wave One adiabatic quantum computer. Lucas is the operational manager of the new center, located at ISI, and Daniel Lidar, a faculty member of the USC Viterbi Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering and Dornsife College Department of Chemistry, is the scientific director.

In addition to Lucas, ISI computer scientists Jacqueline Chame and Pedro Diniz will work on SUPER.