Guang Gao is participating in a $60 million Department of Energy supercomputing project.

Supercomputing leader

Gao, ETI participate in $60 million Department of Energy computing initiative

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3:15 p.m., Jan. 23, 2013--Two teams with University of Delaware connections were among just eight selected by the Department of Energy (DOE) to receive funding under a supercomputing program called 2012 X-Stack: Programming Challenges, Runtime Systems and Tools.

Guang Gao, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is part of an Intel-led team selected to address extreme-scale computing issues in scalability, programmability, portability, resilience, energy efficiency and interoperability. ET International Inc. (ETI), a UD spin-off company founded by Gao, also was awarded funding under the program.

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Total funding across all eight projects is approximately $60 million.

The X-Stack program is funded through DOE’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR), which supports basic research targeting significant advances in High Performance Computing (HPC) programming models, languages, compilers, runtime systems and tools.

Intel-led project

As scientific discovery and national security needs advance, and as data consumption and creation accelerates, Gao says he believes the next generation of scientific breakthroughs in extreme scale science will require major, novel advances in computer technology. 

“We cannot outsource our exa-scale computing research and development needs elsewhere. Strategically it is too important to our national security and to maintaining leadership in science and technology,” he explains.

On the Intel-led X-Stack project, Gao is leading research at UD to develop a novel program execution model and self-aware system software framework. Other major universities participating on the Intel-led team are University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC), University of California, San Diego, and Rice University. 

The challenge is that as computational power grows from peta- to exa-scale — a three order of magnitude change that promises a thousand time increase in performance — parallel processing problems become more complex and irregular.

“How to dynamically schedule work for greatest efficiency and how to manage the power consumed in the underlying systems are the key challenges that Gao’s research will address,” explains Wilfred Pinfold, director of extreme scale programs at Intel Labs.

The key, Gao says, is to fundamentally advance the system software stack. Programming models, languages and related technologies that have sustained HPC application software development over the past decade are becoming antiquated and inadequate for exa-scale era computers. This increased complexity requires new thinking and architectures that are portable and sustainable across future generations of computers. Specifically, it is critical that they incorporate energy-efficiencies and resiliencies that allow the technology to transfer as the field continues to advance.

Gao and his team at the Computer Architecture and Parallel Systems Laboratory (CAPSL) will develop a self-aware operating system model to reduce energy consumption and save power on these extreme-scale systems. This self-aware operating system will use a novel control model and methodology created by Gao’s team that employs machine learning to help the system adapt to its environment and effectively “turn off” unnecessary switches as needed to reduce energy consumption.

“If we cannot use these large, complex systems efficiently they will be outside the budget limitations of most institutions. This foundational research is needed to bring these computers within range where we can build them,” says Pinfold.

ETI-led project

Under a separate award, ETI serves as the lead-principal investigator institution on the Brandywine X-Stack Project. ETI is considered a major player in advancing exa-scale platforms. In particular, ETI is a leading provider of high-performance system software solutions and customized performance acceleration services for multi-core/many-core architectures.

According to David Weir, director of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships, start-up companies like ETI play a key role in fostering the risky ideas needed to advance society. Weir has worked with Gao since 1998 and has had an instrumental role in helping the professor protect his intellectual property, expand his faculty research program to include a start-up company, license the technology and systems, and form a corporation.

“Many of society’s major advances have come out of small entities,” says Weir. “OEIP’s role is to provide Gao, and others like him, with strategic business support that fosters the creation and growth of small companies like ETI.”

ETI continues to strengthen ties with UD, employing more than 20 people, with more than half a dozen UD alumni — including Rishi Khan, the company’s vice president of research and development. Additionally, dozens of students from the University have interned with ETI over the years.

“This new award is clear evidence of ETI’s growth from a University spin-off to a maturing, independent high technology company that is attracting national and international recognition,” adds Kenneth Barner, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Gao thanked the University community saying, “This achievement would not be possible without continuous support from all levels of UD’s administration – departmental, college and University.”

Article by Karen B. Roberts

Photo by Evan Krape

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