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International Relations

Géraldine Clermont - 25/06/2010

Urbana Champaign: A sparkling experience

One year ago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Inria formed the Joint Laboratory for Petascale Computing (High-Performance Computing, HPC). Based in Illinois’ university, the shared laboratory focuses on developing algorithms and software for petascale computing and beyond. Researchers at the laboratory have integrated their work with the Blue Waters project.  The aim is to perfect the most powerful computer in the world. The Joint Laboratory for Petascale Computing is led by Inria’s Franck Cappello and Illinois’ Marc Snir from Urbana-Champaign’s computer sciences department who worked on IBM’s large supercomputing system and has been involved in high performance computing for more than 20 years. In this interview, Mark Snir talks about this collaboration.

It has been one year since the creation of the Inria/Urbana-Champaign Joint Laboratory for Petascale Computing. What are the results?

Marc Snir portait

Marc Snir : The main goal of the Inria-Illinois center was to promote collaboration between French and American scientists. Our objectives are to work on problems that have to do with extreme scale computing, software to make the use of machine like Blue Waters that will come online in 2011 easier. I would say that I have been surprise by the amount of collaboration between French and American researchers since the center has been created. We have had not only the three workshops and the exchange of information, but we have projects where people work together to develop new algorithms and updating the scientific component libraries. So, the collaboration has really become quite concrete and successful. We have already had a large amount of publications. We have new scientific results in areas like resilience or “how to overcome failures of large scale system”. The results that have already come out in such a short period of time, for me, is quite amazing.

This joint laboratory brings together French and American scientists. How do you manage to work together?

M.S. : We have meetings every half a year, alternatively in France and in the US. The first one was in Paris. The second was in Illinois. The third one is now happening as we speak in Bordeaux. In addition, there are a large number of visits of Inria researchers and students to Urbana Champaign, and also visits of people from the faculty of Illinois to France. The other aspect of this collaboration is that, Franck Cappello (Inria) is entirely dedicated fulltime to work on getting this collaboration to happen. He has moved to the USA and is spending a lot of time at Illinois finding collaborations and identifying subjects of research. Furthermore, I think that what excite researchers the most is to work on really concrete problems. The problems we are working on are indeed very tied to how make the largest machine on earth work correctly and usefully. The objectives are therefore very clear and concrete.

What benefit is there for you to work in partnership with Inria?

M.S. : High performance computing and developing extreme scale software for the future are hard and significant research areas. I believe that the only way we are going succeed is to go through international collaboration. We have started pushing for it realizing that is important to reach the smartest people to work on these problems. For me, this collaboration must evolve the same way space exploration has evolved. France has very smart people that have been working on high performance computing for a long time. We appreciate the contribution that our French partners have made and the French partners appreciate our own efforts.


Center for Extreme-scale Computation
The center is part of the Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies at the University of Illinois. Its efforts are concentrated on developing applications and technologies to help scientists and engineers to use high performance computers to their full potential. The scope of the research covers notably the use of accelerators such as GPUs in computer sciences, multi-scale technical simulations and the development of new methods of parallel programming and scientific applications.
The National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana Champaign is part of the University of Illinois. It is tasked with providing scientists and engineers with very powerful computers and high level expertise. For over 20 years NCSA has been one of the leading suppliers of high performance computing resources and a partner for the scientific community specialised in computer science research (software and hardware). Building on this experience, NCSA and its partners have begun the “Blue Water” project with the aim of providing the scientific community with a computer achieving a sustained performance of 1 Petaflop.
A public science and technology institution under the supervision of the ministries for Research and Industry. Leaders: Michel COSNARD, CEO of Inria – Jean-Pierre VERJUS, deputy managing director. Annual budget(2009): €200 M of which 21% from its own resources.     Regional research centres: Paris - Rocquencourt, Sophia Antipolis – Méditerranée, Grenoble – Rhône-Alpes, Nancy – Grand Est, Rennes – Bretagne Atlantique, Bordeaux – Sud Ouest, Lille – Nord Europe, Saclay – Île-de-France. 2800 researchers, including more than 1,000 PhD students, working in more than 160 project teams of which most are shared with other organisations, the leading higher education institutes and universities. 790 active research contracts. 79 associated teams throughout the worlds. 94 companies created since 1984.

Keywords: University Illinois Joint Laboratory HPC High performance computing Marc Snir Franck Cappello