Parallel Processing Software Gets a Boost in Barcelona
Question: What precocious five-year old is writing parallel code to make the most efficient use of multi-core processors?
Answer: The Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC)–Microsoft Research Centre in Barcelona, Spain, also known as BSCMSRC by those who enjoy trying to pronounce acronyms that contain no vowels.
From left to right: Andrew Blake, managing director, Microsoft Research Cambridge; Fabrizio Gagliardi, director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA; Maria Ribera, dean of Barcelona School of Informatics; Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research; Antoni Giró, president, Rector of Technical University of Catalonia – Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya; and Mateo Valero, director, Barcelona Supercomputing Center
Okay, so it was a trick question. But the Centre, which celebrates its fifth anniversary on November 2, 2011, truly is a precocious operation, producing code that makes it easy for programmers to develop parallel-processing software. This is vital because everything—from smart phones and tablets, to PCs and supercomputers—is sprouting extra cores so users can do more. A joint venture of BSC and Microsoft Research, the BSCMSRC brings together the expertise of hardware and software researchers from BSC and software mavens from Microsoft Research.
One technology that the BSCMSRC researchers have been looking at is transactional memory (TM). TM makes it easier to write parallel programs that frequently share data, a process that otherwise requires complex and unwieldy programs. The Centre has developed sophisticated TM applications to date, QuakeTM and Atomic Quake. These applications, which are based on the open-source Quake game server, will be useful in evaluating TM-equipped chips. As part of the €4 million VELOX project funded by the European Commission, BSCMSRC has coordinated the development of a fully integrated TM system that includes hardware simulators, language runtime systems, and compiler support alongside the new TM applications.
BSCMSRC researchers have also developed a dataflow programming model called StarsS, in which data that is produced and consumed in applications automatically “flows” at program runtime. This frees the programmer from explicitly architecting data movements in his or her application and makes it much easier to develop software. BSCMSRC researchers are integrating the StarsS programming model with the Barrelfish research OS, a new message-passing, open-source operating system being developed by Microsoft Research and ETH Zurich.
“BSC’s expertise in computer architecture has been a great fit with our expertise in programming language implementation,” notes Tim Harris, senior researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge. “This cross-disciplinary approach has led to proposals for new, general-purpose hardware features to accelerate the language runtime systems that underpin modern languages such as Haskell and C#.”
In marking the BSCMSRC’s fifth anniversary, BSC Director Mateo Valero commented “I am proud of the impact of the work done by a very young team at the Centre in our five years of existence. With the multidisciplinary competences of our research personnel, the Centre is in a unique position to influence both hardware and software design. I am also very happy to see Microsoft Research being a major actor in our little Silicon Port at Barcelona in the Mediterranean.”
Fabrizio Gagliardi, Microsoft Research Connections director for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa—and Mateo’s counterpart in this adventure—adds, “Our collaboration with Mateo and his team of computer architects goes a long time back and was the foundation for this joint endeavor. I am very pleased and proud for the results of this collaboration and the resonance and the impact that this is having worldwide.”
—Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA