Defining an HPC Open Ecosystem, Where We Are and How Do We Get There

John D. Davis (BSC-CNS, Barcelona Supercomputing Center)

Masterclass on Advanced Computing

October 21 | 4 p.m. (GMT+1) / 10 a.m. (CDT) | Duration: 2 ½ h
Hybrid | Limited attendance


Over the last 3 decades, we have witnessed a transition from closed software ecosystems being the foundation for HPC, enterprises, and businesses to open source software ecosystems based on Linux: from Arduino in the IoT space to Android in the mobile space to Linux in HPC and cloud-based systems with various Open Source Software projects built on top. However, when examining hardware, current commercial off-the-shelf solutions are closed hardware ecosystems that only enable integration at the peripheral (PCIe) level. The combination of current technology trends, the slowing of Moore’s Law, and cost-prohibitive silicon manufacturing inhibit significant power-performance gains by relying on traditional closed ecosystems, especially in HPC, technology pushed to the extreme. This new regime forces systems to be much more specialized to achieve the power-performance profiles required for a supercomputer. In the past, HPC has led the way forward, defining the bleeding edge of technology. HPC can do this again with open hardware, as it has done in software with adopting Linux and open source in general. This is not only a technology imperative but one born out of current geopolitics. Given this technology and geopolitical backdrop, we describe how Europe can exploit its resources targeting research and development for technological independence.

In this new technology environment, some of the rules have changed. This has produced a shift from abundant transistors to the efficient use of transistors. Thus, to truly meet the power and performance requirements, we must specialize the hardware. At the same time, the software stack is evolving, becoming more abstract, enabling higher programmer productivity, but sacrificing hardware efficiency. Thus, application owners will need to co-design the full stack, all layers of hardware and software, to meet their performance and power (FLOPs/W) targets. This level of integration is not possible in a closed or even partially open ecosystem. The platform must be open to enable this tight integration. We see this openness today in the Linux OS, toolchain, runtimes, frameworks, and libraries, up to the application layer. This enables rapid development and extension of software systems. However, an open hardware infrastructure is lacking, making specialization impossible. Openness is required to tailor your hardware platform to the applications, thereby achieving the desired performance in the power-constrained environment. There have been a couple of open-source hardware platforms in the past, but Moore’s Law inhibited their adoption for many reasons: general-purpose processor improvements, time to market, cost, software development, etc. Furthermore, unlike Linux, previous open-source hardware was entangled in the companies that created them. Mirroring the same model as Linux, RISC-V has followed a similar development path and has enjoyed significant industrial and academic adoption. Like Linux before it, the RISC-V ecosystem is in the nascent period where it can become the de facto open hardware platform of the future. The RISC-V ecosystem has the same opportunity in hardware that Linux created as a foundation for open-source software. This enables the co-design of the RISC-V hardware and the entire software stack, creating a better overall solution than the closed hardware approach that is done today. As Europe HPC recognized in the past with Linux, Europe has the opportunity to lead the charge, creating a full-stack solution for everything from supercomputers to IoT devices, all based on an open ISA, providing interoperability and freedom to create, build, and deploy superior technology based on European IP.

In this masterclass, first, the speakers will provide background on HPC and how BSC has shaped the current state of the art in HPC. Using RISC-V as an instrument, they will provide a vision for the future and a collection of current research and innovation projects, infrastructure, and the community that is building the foundation for the future. This is a new opportunity for Europe to lead the way to an HPC Future that is Wide Open!

Session coordinated by UT Austin Portugal’s Area Director for Advanced Computing (PT):

  • Rui Oliveira, Member of the Board of Directors of INESC TEC, Director of the Minho Advanced Computing Center (MACC), Associate Professor at the Informatics Department of the University of Minho, and National Co-Director of UT Austin Portugal Program

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