November 2007
Software Enabling Technologies for Petascale Science
Jennifer M. Schopf, University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory
Ann Chervenak, University of Southern California
Ian Foster, University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory
Dan Fraser, University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory
Dan Gunter, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Nick LeRoy, University of Wisconsin
Brian Tierney, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

1. Petascale Science is an End-to-end Problem

Petascale science is an end-to-end endeavor, involving not only the creation of massive datasets at supercomputers or experimental facilities, but the subsequent analysis of that data by a user community that may be distributed across many laboratories and universities. The new Center for Enabling Distributed Petascale Science (CEDPS), supported by the US Department of Energy’s Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program, is developing tools to support this end-to-end process. In this brief article, we summarize the goals of the project and its progress to date. Some material is adapted from a longer article that appeared in the 2007 SciDAC conference proceedings.1

At a recent workshop on computational science, the chair noted in his introductory remarks that if the speed of airplanes had increased by the same factor as computers over the last 50 years, namely five orders of magnitude, then we would be able to cross the US in less than a second. This analogy communicates with great effectiveness the remarkable impact of continued exponential growth in computational performance, which along with comparable improvements in solution methods is arguably the foundation for SciDAC.

However, a participant was heard to exclaim following these remarks: “yes—but it would still take two hours to get downtown!” The serious point that this speaker was making is that science is an end-to-end problem and that accelerating just one single aspect of the problem solving process can inevitably achieve only limited returns in terms of increased scientific productivity.

These concerns become particularly important as we enter the era of petascale science, by which we mean science involving numerical simulations performed on supercomputers capable of a petaflop/sec or higher performance, and/or experimental apparatus—such as the Large Hadron Collider,2 light sources and other user facilities,3 and ITER4 —capable of producing petabytes of data. Successful science using such devices demands not only that we be able to construct and operate the simulation or experiment, but also that a distributed community of participants be able to access, analyze, and ultimately make sense of the resulting massive datasets. In the absence of appropriate solutions to the end-to-end problem, the utility of these unique apparatus can be severely compromised.

The following example illustrates issues that can arise in such contexts. A team at the University of Chicago recently used the FLASH3 code to perform the world’s largest compressible, homogeneous isotropic turbulence simulation.5 Using 11 million CPU-hours on the LLNL BG/L computer over a period of a week, they produced a total of 154 terabytes of data, contained in 75 million files that were subsequently archived. Subsequently, they used GridFTP to move 23 terabytes of this data to computers at the University of Chicago; using four parallel streams, this took some three weeks at around 20 megabyte/sec. Next, they spent considerable time using local resources to tag the data, analyze it, and visualize it, augmenting the metadata as well. In a final step, they are making this unique dataset available for use by the community of turbulence researchers by providing analysis services so that other researchers can securely download portions of the data for their own use. In each of these steps, they were ultimately successful—but they would be the first to argue that the effort required to achieve their end-to-end goals of scientific publications and publicly available datasets was excessive.

As this example illustrates, a complete solution to the end-to-end problem may require not only methods for parallel petascale simulation and high-performance parallel I/O (both handled by the FLASH3 code and associated parallel libraries), but also efficient and reliable methods for:

  • high-speed reliable data placement, to transfer data from its site of creation to other locations for subsequent analysis;
  • terascale or faster local data analysis, to enable exploration of data that has been fetched locally;
  • high-performance visualization, to enable perusal of selected subsets and features of large datasets data prior to download;
  • troubleshooting the complex end-to-end system, which due to its myriad hardware and software components can fail in a wide range of often hard-to-diagnose ways;
  • building and operating scalable services,6 so that many users can request analyses of data without having to download large subsets [this aspect of the project is not addressed in this article];
  • securing the end-to-end system, in a manner that prevents (and/or can detect) intrusions and other attacks, without preventing the high-performance data movement and collaborative access that is essential to petascale science; and
  • orchestrating these various activities, so that they can be performed routinely and repeatedly.

Each of these requirements can be a significant challenge when working at the petascale level. Thus, a new SciDAC Center for Enabling Technology, the Center for Enabling Distributed Petascale Science (CEDPS) was recently established to support the work of any SciDAC program that involves the creation, movement, and/or analysis of large amounts of data, with a focus on data placement, scalable services, and troubleshooting.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Reference this article
Schopf, J. M., Chervenak, A., Foster, I., Fraser, D., Gunter, D., LeRoy, N., Tierney, B. "End-to-End Data Solutions for Distributed Petascale Science," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 4, November 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/11/end-to-end-data-solutions-for-distributed-petascale-science/

Any opinions expressed on this site belong to their respective authors and are not necessarily shared by the sponsoring institutions or the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Any trademarks or trade names, registered or otherwise, that appear on this site are the property of their respective owners and, unless noted, do not represent endorsement by the editors, publishers, sponsoring institutions, the National Science Foundation, or any other member of the CTWatch team.

No guarantee is granted by CTWatch that information appearing in articles published by the Quarterly or appearing in the Blog is complete or accurate. Information on this site is not intended for commercial purposes.