DARPA plots supercomputing revolution

DARPA program aims to kickstart revolutionary high-performance technologies

A new research program is attempting to develop a new generation of power-efficient, space-saving supercomputers. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched its Omnipresent High Performance Computing program, which seeks to develop breakthrough technologies in the areas of hardware, software, scalable input/output systems, programming models and low power circuits.

The goal of this and other related computing research efforts is to create new, compact supercomputers to support the Defense Department’s growing need for applications and processing capability. Such systems could rapidly manage and interpret the massive streams of sensor data generated by next-generation unmanned and manned platforms. These new computers could potentially be installed in individual vehicles or command centers to provide sensor fusion and analysis, and vastly increase the reaction and decision time of U.S. forces.

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In its broad agency announcement issued June 21, DARPA stated that "current evolutionary approaches to progress in computer designs are inadequate." The agency stated that it wants to develop technologies to reduce the power requirements for high performance computers, including memory storage hierarchies; developing highly programmable systems to reduce operational complexity; and improving system dependability, managing component failure rates, and security issues including methods for sharing information and responsibility between the operating system, runtime system and applications.

The program also will research self-aware system software. This includes operating systems, runtime systems, I/O systems, system management and administration, resource management and external environments. DARPA also wants to study programming models that allow developers to more easily design in security, dependability, power efficiency and high performance.

Advances developed by the HPC program will complement DARPA’s Ubiquitous High Performance Computing program. According to the announcement, “The purpose of this effort is to accelerate the performance capabilities of UHPC program systems through selected, critical research and development activities that have high impact on ExremeScale computing and specifically UHPC program systems, up to but not necessarily including whole-system prototype development.” DARPA describes ExtremeScale systems as a computer that is a thousand times more powerful than a current comparable system with the same power and physical footprint.

The goals for the UHPC program include developing a petaflop supercomputer that fits into a single cabinet and runs a self-aware operating system. The effort also seeks to develop a prototype compiler to ease the programming for an ExtremeScale system and a dynamic system that adapts to achieve optimal application execution goals without the direct involvement of the application developer. DARPA plans to have a prototype UHPC computer by 2018.

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