Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne to install Comanche system to explore ARM technology for high-performance computing

By Laura WolfNovember 17, 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is collaborating with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to provide system software expertise and a development ecosystem for a future high-performance computing (HPC) system based on 64-bit ARM processors.

ARM is a RISC-based processor architecture that has dominated the mobile computing space for years. That dominance is due to how tightly ARM CPUs can be integrated with other hardware, such as sensors and graphics coprocessors, and also because of the architecture’s power efficiency. ARM’s capacity for HPC workloads, however, has been an elusive target within the industry for years.

“Inducing competition is a critical part of our mission and our ability to meet our users’ needs.” - Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for Argonne’s Computing, Environment and Life Sciences Directorate.

Several efforts are now underway to develop a robust HPC software stack to make ARM processors capable of supporting the multithreaded floating-point workloads that are typically required by high-end scientific computing applications.

HPE, a California-based technology company and seller of high-level IT services and hardware, is leading a collaboration to accelerate ARM chip adoption for high-performance computing applications. Argonne is working with HPE to evaluate early versions of chipmaker Cavium ARM ThunderX2 64-bit processors for the ARM ecosystem. Argonne is interested in evaluating the ARM ecosystem as a cost-effective and power-effective alternative to x86 architectures based on Intel CPUs, which currently dominate the high-performance computing market.

To support this work, Argonne will install a 32-node Comanche Wave prototype ARM64 server platform in its testing and evaluation environment, the Joint Laboratory for System Evaluation, in early 2018. Argonne researchers from various computing divisions will run applications on the ecosystem and provide performance feedback to HPE and partnering vendors.

Argonne’s advanced computing ecosystem, chiefly its Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, supports a research community whose work requires cutting-edge computational resources — some of the most powerful in the world. For more than a decade, Argonne has been partnering with industry vendor IBM, and more recently, Intel and Cray, to produce custom architectures optimized for scientific and engineering research. These architectures not only feature custom processor systems, but novel interconnects, software stacks and solutions for power and cooling, among other things.

“We have to build the pipeline for future systems, too,” said Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for Argonne’s Computing, Environment and Life Sciences Directorate. “Industry partnerships are critical to our ability to do our job — which is to provide extreme-scale computing capabilities for solving some of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Inducing competition is a critical part of our mission and our ability to meet our users’ needs.”

“By initiating the Comanche collaboration, HPE brought together industry partners and leadership sites like Argonne National Laboratory to work in a joint development effort,” said HPE’s Chief Strategist for HPC and Technical Lead for the Advanced Development Team Nic Dubé. “This program represents one of the largest customer-driven prototyping efforts focused on the enablement of the HPC software stack for ARM. We look forward to further collaboration on the path to an open hardware and software ecosystem.”

Argonne researchers may eventually contribute to development of the ARM system’s compilers, which are the programs that translate application code into instructions interpreted by the processor. In the past, the difficulty and expense of compiler development have impeded the adoption of alternative processor architectures by high-performance computing applications. Such obstacles are now mitigated by robust open source compiler projects, such as LLVM, which Argonne contributes to actively.

The Comanche collaboration will be presenting at different venues and showcasing a full rack of next generation ARM servers at the 2017 International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis (SC17) this week (booth #494).

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.