DOD tackles multicore computing

HOW CAN YOU take advantage of multicore processors when most software was written for single-core processors? A new program overseen by the Defense Department's High Performance Computer Modernization Program (HPCMP) is trying to tackle the problem.

'We're at an interesting point now, with multicore chips appearing as mainstream items,' said Cray Henry, director of HPCMP. 'To me, the huge issue is where are we going to get the application software that will take advantage of the parallelism.'

'You will have to grow a whole new workforce that can do parallel programming,' he said.

'There's not that many people in the field.'

Henry noted that commodity chip manufacturers such as Intel are developing math libraries to mask the parallelism, which can then take some of the burden off the programmer. 'That's good to an extent, but that doesn't really grapple with the issue of if people can...decompose the problem into a set of parallel actions that could use the full potential of the hardware.'

The program, called the Computational Research and Engineering Acquisition Tools and Environments (CREATE) will dedicate approximately $350 million for the next 12 years to improving the software tools DOD and its contractors use.

The program's goal is to find new ways to take advantage of machines that will be able to execute 1 quadrillion floatingpoint operations per second (or 1 petaflop). Such machines will be massively parallel, meaning they can execute many tasks simultaneously. They could be used for improving weapons systems design and test processes, developing new materials, and creating models that can predict the behavior of complete systems.

The challenge for DOD is that such tasks are too much of a niche to be noticed by the private sector, so the department will have to fund the development of tools ' though it can draw on some work by NASA, the Energy Department and the National Science Foundation.

Initially, CREATE will establish three sets of advanced computational engineering design tools for DOD acquisition programs, designed to aid in aircraft, ship and antenna development, Henry said. The first prototypes are expected by the end of the decade, with regular updates thereafter.

A fourth project will work on providing underlying computational support to these tools by providing algorithms, computational grid and collaboration tools, and support for software engineering support, data assessment and analysis.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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