Ultimate geek dream? NASA challenges you to jump on the FORTRAN bandwagon!

NASA opens High Performance Fast Computing Challenge

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NASA

NASA is looking to bolster the speed – from ten to 10,000 times -- of the software on its Pleiades supercomputer and is issuing a public challenge to get the job done.

The catch is that the software the space agency is looking to squeeze all of that performance out of is based on Fortran – a program that has roots back to 1954.

“This is the ultimate ‘geek’ dream assignment,” said Doug Rohn, director of NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP) in a statement.

According to IBM: “From its creation in 1954, and its commercial release in 1957 as the progenitor of software, Fortran (FORMula TRANslator) became the first computer language standard, ‘helped open the door to modern computing,’ and may well be the most influential software product in history. Fortran liberated computers from the exclusive realm of programmers and opened them to nearly everybody else. It is still in use more than 50 years after its creation.

Specifically what NASA is doing is sponsoring a $55,000 competition called the High Performance Fast Computing Challenge (HPFCC). NASA is looking for qualified people who can download the Modern Fortran code, known as FUN3D, analyze the performance bottlenecks, and identify possible modifications that might lead to reducing overall computational time.

According to NASA FUN3D is used for what it calls “flow computations” including large eddy simulations in computational fluid dynamics (CFD). “Despite tremendous progress made in the past few decades, CFD tools are too slow for simulation of complex geometry flows, particularly those involving flow separation and multi-physics (e.g. combustion) applications. To enable high-fidelity CFD for multi-disciplinary analysis and design, the speed of computation must be increased by orders of magnitude,” NASA stated.

The FUN3D software is evolving steadily in multi-language directions for reasons other than performance. Currently, a standard computational task in the CFD area takes from thousands to millions of computational core-hours, NASA stated. Pleiades is a distributed-memory Silicon Graphics Inc. SGI ICE cluster connected with InfiniBand in a dual-plane hypercube technology.

“Examples of modifications would be simplifying a single subroutine so that it runs a few milliseconds faster. If this subroutine is called millions of times, this one change could dramatically speed up the entire program’s runtime,” NASA said.

There are some limitations, FUN3D is:

  • Code developed by the US Government at US taxpayer expense
  • Flow analysis solver is written in Fortran, other components are written in C++ and Ruby
  • Code which can be applied to a wide range of fluid dynamic problems
  • Since the code is owned by the U.S. government, it has strict export restrictions requiring all challenge participants to be U.S. citizens over the age of 18.
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The HPFCCchallenge is being supported by HeroX and Topcoder and proposals are being accepted for 2 separate challenges:

  • Ideation - Ideas and approaches may include, but are not limited to exploiting algorithmic developments in such areas as grid adaptation, higher-order methods and efficient solution techniques for high performance computing hardware.  Ideation responses can be submitted by clicking the accept challenge button above.
  • Architecture  - Optimize individual software module code and inter-node processing in order to reduce overall model computation time and parallelization efficiency is the goal of this second challenge.   Ideal submission may include algorithm optimization of the existing code base, Inter-node dispatch optimization or a combination of the two.  Unlike the Ideation challenge, which is highly strategic, this challenge focuses on measureable improvements of the existing FUN3D suite and is highly tactical.  

Code submissions must be received by 5 p.m. EDT, June 29, and winners will be announced August 9.

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