"It's an unusual opportunity", stated Bruce Hendrickson, Sandia senior manager of computational sciences and math. "Cray has an exciting machine (the XMT) and we know how to use it well. This CRADA should help originate new technologies for efficiently analyzing large data sets. New capabilities will be applicable to Sandia's fundamental science and mission work."
Shoaib Mufti, director of knowledge management in Cray's custom engineering group, stated: "Sandia is a leading national lab with strong expertise in areas of data analysis. The concept of big data in the HPC (high-performing computing) environment is an important area of focus for Cray, and we are excited about the prospect of new solutions that may result from this collaborative effort with Sandia."
Rob Leland, Sandia director of computing research, added: "This is a great example of how Sandia engages our industrial partners. The XMT was originally developed at Sandia's suggestion. It combined an older processor technology Cray had developed with the Red Storm infrastructure we jointly designed, giving birth to a new class of machines. That's now come full circle. The Institute will leverage this technology to help us in our national security work, benefitting the Labs and the nation as well as our partner."
Red Storm was the first parallel processing supercomputer to break the teraflop barrier. Its descendants, built by Cray, are still the world's most widely purchased supercomputer. The XMT, however, has a different mode of operation from conventional parallel-processing systems.
Stated Bruce Hendrickson: "Think about your desktop: The memory system's main job is to keep the processor fed. It achieves this through a complex hierarchy of intermediate memory caches that stage data that might be needed soon. The XMT does away with this hierarchy. Though its memory accesses are distant and time-consuming to reach, the processor keeps busy by finding something else to do in the meantime."
In a desktop machine or ordinary supercomputer, Bruce Hendrickson said, high performance can only be achieved if the memory hierarchy is successful at getting data to the processor fast enough. But for many important applications, this isnt possible and so processors idle most of the time. Said another way, traditional machines try to avoid latency (waiting for data) though the use of complex memory hierarchies.
The XMT doesn't avoid latency; instead, it embraces it. By supporting many fine-grained snippets of a programme called "threads", the processor switches to a new thread when memory access would otherwise make it have to wait for data.
"Traditional machines are pretty good for many science applications, but the XMT's latency tolerance is a superior approach for lots of complex data applications", Bruce Hendrickson stated. "For example, following a chain of data links to draw some inference totally trashes memory locality because the data may be anywhere." More broadly, he said, the XMT supports programmes very good at working with large data collections that can be represented as graphs.
Such computations appear in biology, law enforcement, business intelligence, and in various national security applications. Instead of a single answer, results are often best viewed as graphs.
Sandia and other labs have already built software to run graph algorithms, though "the software is still pretty immature", Bruce Hendrickson stated. "That's one reason for the institute. As semantic database technology grows in popularity, these kinds of applications may become the norm."
Among its other virtues, the XMT saves power because it runs at slower clock speeds. This normally bad thing is good here because rapid computation is not the goal but rather the accurate laying-out of data points.
SILKS' primary objectives, as described in the CRADA, are to accelerate the development of high-performance computing, overcome barriers to implementation, and apply new technologies to enable discovery and innovation in science, engineering, and for homeland security.
The CRADA's main technical categories include software, hardware, services, outreach, education, and training. University students and faculty, as well as scientists and engineers from industry and government, are expected to be invited to take part in and benefit from the institute's research.
CRADAs are written agreements between a private company and a government agency to work together on a project. A CRADA allows the federal government and non-federal partners to optimize their resources, share technical expertise in a protected environment, share intellectual property emerging from the effort, and speed the commercialization of federally developed technology.