Cash prizes for best free online lessons in high-performance computing
Supercomputing isn't what it used to be. While the biggest and fastest megacomputers are still an elite domain, the rapid appearance of "multicore" processors in PCs is forcing average programmers and techies to confront the ins and outs of "parallel" processing on a day-to-day basis
(Media-Newswire.com) - Supercomputing isn’t what it used to be. While the biggest and fastest megacomputers are still an elite domain, the rapid appearance of "multicore" processors in PCs is forcing average programmers and techies to confront the ins and outs of "parallel" processing on a day-to-day basis.
"It used to be that the concepts of parallel processing – of dividing a computing task and running it simultaneously across several processors – were only important to supercomputing experts," said Jan Odegard, director of Rice University's Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology. "With the introduction of dual-core, quad-core, and soon, many-core chips, as well as the understanding that chips with hundreds of cores will be in your typical PCs within just a few years, parallel processing is suddenly something that everybody needs to be familiar with."
In an effort to jump-start the creation of freely available, easily understood classroom lessons and textbooks about parallel computing, Rice is co-sponsoring a contest with $500 cash prizes for the five best lessons submitted to the open-education site Connexions. The contest – the 2008-'09 Open Education Cup – will kick off Nov. 15-21 in Austin, Texas, at SC08, the world's largest annual supercomputing convention and trade show.
"Reports have said over and over again that we need more and better high-performance-computing education," said one of the contest's judges, Dan Reed, director of scalable and multicore computing strategy at Microsoft. "Projects like this are a way to build that education from the ground up," said Reed, who is also a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology ( PCAST ) and a co-author of PCAST's 2007 report on the challenges faced by America's information technology industry.
Like a 1999 blue-ribbon report from the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, the 2007 PCAST report recognized two things: Almost every sector of the economy depends upon IT, and the nation's workforce needs IT training to keep up with changes like multicore processing.
Multicore and many-core technology was born out of an effort to simultaneously slash power usage while boosting processing power. It's a fundamental shift from the way desktop PCs have operated for the past 25 years; PC programs were written sequentially, with instructions that were executed one after another by a single processor.
The idea of speeding up this processing by divvying up instructions across multiple processors is not new. That's the way high-performance computing has operated for decades. But high-performance computers, or supercomputers, have never been widely available because they're expensive and require years of training to program.
The advent of affordable multicore and many-core processors changes that. Reed, Odegard and other experts say all the added computing power in today's new chips will remain unused unless the industry can find a way to give users the tools and knowledge to tap into it.
"Being able to rapidly create and test new algorithms is critical for our seismic imaging research," said Keith Gray, manager of high-performance computing at contest co-sponsor BP. "Access to up-to-date and effective training material will help us make better use of new computing technology."
Odegard said the Open Education Cup allows each expert to focus on writing just one or a small number of lessons on topics they are passionate about rather than taking on the monumental task of writing a whole textbook that must contain a much wider set of topics. Instructors can then assemble course packs by combining material written by many experts covering the necessary topics for a particular class they want to teach. These lessons, or "modules," will be authored into Connexions, an open-education resource Web site with thousands of freely available modules on dozens of subjects with tools for authors, instructors and students to interact with the material.
"Making this freely available online gives us a multiplier effect," Odegard said. "We hope that access to the material will stimulate educators to offer a richer set of education and training opportunities for high-performance computing and computational problem solving. It is critical for our national competitiveness and continued ability to advance science and engineering that these concepts be infused into the curriculums at all universities, community colleges and even into advanced high school programs."
2008-09 Open Education Cup sponsors include Rice, BP, WesternGeco, Total S.A., NVIDIA, Sun Microsystems and Chevron.
This story was released on 2008-10-29. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.