DOD tackles parallel processing challenges with new program

A programming tool for parallel-processing environments that was originally developed with Defense Department funding is now available commercially from Management Communications and Control Inc. of Arlington, Va.

The software, called the Autocoding Toolset, provides a graphical user interface as well as some reusable code and code-generation capability, said Christopher Robbins, MCCI president.

The Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Md., has used the software to develop a heat flow program that now runs on a 2,000-processor system, Robbins added.

The Defense Research Projects Agency, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Navy funded portions of the program's development through a number of Small Business Innovation Research and Advanced Technology Demonstration awards.

DARPA wanted to address two challenges with the work, Robbins said. One was to improve the productivity of the developers writing programs for the Defense Department's high-performance computing systems. Writing programs for multiple-processor computer systems is a time-consuming task, given the complexities involved. Very few programmers are skilled at writing this sort of code. The Message Passing Interface library relieves some, though not all, of the work.

DARPA also wanted to produce programs that would use a greater percentage of the available processors. 'There are cases of codes that run on thousands of processors getting one percent efficiency. You might as well not have bought the hardware at all,' Robbins said. Robbins said DARPA's Information Processing Technology Office has a goal to develop programs that wring 90 percent efficiency from 256-processor systems.

MDA has its own goals. It is interested in developing the technology in order to address its own potential bottleneck in data gestation. The agency expects to collect vast amounts of data from its radar systems, which must be processed as quickly as possible, Robbins said.

Robbins hopes that the Autocoding Toolset will reduce development time by providing both a graphical user interface that can visually encapsulate the work in progress, as well as by automatically generating control classes.

The Autocoding Toolset uses a data flow language called Processing Graph Method, first developed for the Navy. 'The flow of data through a program is like [the flow of] current in electrical circuits,' commented Robbins.

The application allows the developer to craft the flow of the data as it travels through the application, using graphing tools. Symbols represent different entities, such as variables and arrays. The program also has a library of standard math and processing functions. It can also encapsulate user code written in other languages, such as C, or ADA, even MatLab functions and scripts.

Robbins said experienced programmers can start using the Autocoding Toolset within a few hours of familiarization. The software runs on most variants of Unix, including Linux, and costs about $60,000.

About the Author

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


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