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Modernizing the Military's Use of Computing through PET

Jay Boisseau, SDSC

Scientific Computing Group, SDSC

Where once America's military might depended solely upon the cunning of its field leaders and the strength of its numbers, computing technology today is creating new ways to achieve dominance on the battlefield. Researchers from the Department of Defense (DoD) are applying high-performance computing to problems that will allow American warfighters, in the tragic circumstance of war, to be as effective and safe as possible. To modernize such strategic research projects, the Programming Environments and Training (PET) program, part of a much larger initiative, joins DoD researchers and computing experts from SDSC and other universities.

The high-performance computing projects can include anything from complex mapping systems that allow a central command station to plot, map, and analyze troop and equipment movements, to scientific studies of atmospheric conditions to anticipate how weather patterns may impact sea-faring military vessels. The scientific studies conducted by military researchers are similar to many projects being undertaken by academic researchers involved with such programs as NPACI. And since the computing expertise already existed at academic high-performance computing facilities such as SDSC, the PET program contracts with these same experts to help defense researchers make optimal use of high-performance computing resources.





The PET program is one facet of a much larger initiative, the Department of Defense High-Performance Computing Modernization Program. The modernization program, launched in 1996 and led by the High-Performance Computing Modernization Office, applies American technological dominance to the defense mission, resulting in a stronger and more strategic military force. As part of the modernization effort, the DoD established high-performance computing facilities, similar to the NSF-funded supercomputer centers, called Major Shared Resource Centers (MSRCs). The DoD allocates computing time on MSRC resources for DoD-funded research projects ranging from computational fluid dynamics to signal and image processing.

Four MSRCs were established at existing facilities: the Army Research Laboratory in Maryland; the Aeronautical Systems Center in Ohio; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Mississippi; and the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO) at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Each site provides a complete computing environment--high-performance computers, data storage, visualization, training, and expertise in specific computational technology areas. The sites are managed by "integrators," private contractors who maintain and upgrade the services at each MSRC.

When the DoD announced the establishment of the MSRCs, Anita Jones, then-director of Defense Research and Engineering developed, in consultation academic leaders such as Sid Karin, director of NPACI and SDSC, and Ken Kennedy, director of the Center for Research on Parallel Computation at Rice University, an idea for leveraging academic computing expertise at the MSRCs. As a result, the PET program is a part of each MSRC, and since June 1997, SDSC has participated in the PET program at the NAVO center as a subcontractor to the NAVO integrator, Northrop-Grumman. The PET mission of SDSC and its academic partners is to improve the effectiveness of DoD researchers as scientists.

"Our NAVO PET work matches up well against the computational science areas that NPACI is pursuing," said Jay Boisseau, manager of SDSC's Scientific Computing Group and principal investigator on SDSC's NAVO PET project. "NAVO funds SDSC to work on parallel computing issues, metacomputing, security technologies, visualization tools and techniques, and the development of Web interfaces to high-performance computing resources. Each project has benefits to and support from both PET and NPACI."

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Our NAVO PET work matches up well against the computational science areas that NPACI is pursuing--parallel computing issues, metacomputing, security technologies, visualization tools and techniques, and Web interfaces to high-performance computing resources. Each project has benefits to and support from both PET and NPACI.

Jay Boisseau, SDSC Scientific Computing Group


DoD computational research is categorized into 10 computational technology areas, and each MSRC supports research in several areas based upon the prior experience of the site, associated military branch, and the suitability of the types of resources each had to offer. Because the Stennis Space Center is also the site of a Naval Research Laboratory, which is home to many researchers who use the NAVO MSRC resources, NAVO computational technology areas focus on disciplines associated with the environment, weather, and oceans. The NAVO areas are computational fluid dynamics; climate, weather, and ocean modeling; computational electromagnetics and acoustics; environmental quality management; and signal and image processing.

The modernization program selects prominent DoD researchers to serve as leaders in each of the 10 computational technology areas. These leaders are responsible for identifying strategic projects within their area that benefit the military. The leaders also help the PET program identify researchers to target with Tiger Teams.

"Once a number of projects using NAVO resources were established, we worked with the PET director there to start the SDSC Tiger Teams and target our researcher assistance," Boisseau said. "The SDSC Tiger Teams work directly with strategic NAVO researchers to achieve breakthrough results in their individual projects through performance analysis, optimization, and porting codes to parallel machines."

The Tiger Teams also evaluate, develop, and implement technologies that make the wide array of resources at NAVO more individually and collectively useful in the performance of computational science. At SDSC, Boisseau, Stuart Johnson, Giri Chukkapalli, Dongju Choi, and Tim Kaiser--all members of the Scientific Computing Group--work with Tiger Team researchers.

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Entering its third year with PET, with an additional two years of funding expected to follow, SDSC is also working with NAVO on security, scientific visualization, general training, and other projects through other SDSC staff members. Major focuses for the upcoming year include security efforts, Legion ports for NAVO's platforms, a Web-based interface to NAVO resources, ongoing training, and a parallel programming knowledge archive.

Also, another PET component reaches out to students at historically black colleges and universities. Students contribute to projects as interns and use this knowledge to educate people at their home institutions. Last year, the interns spent a week at NAVO and six weeks at SDSC. Chukkapalli, for example, supervised Ayisha Alexander from North Carolina A&T University as part of his Tiger Team efforts.

"The knowledge archive is an important project," Boisseau said. "The intention is to create a database that will help a researcher with queries and questions when there is no human support available. To be most useful, the archive will be dynamic, with the most current information always available, and a catalog of older references." The archive, being developed by Bob Sinkovits of SDSC's Scientific Computing group, includes reference materials and documentation.

Porting Legion, a metacomputing code developed by NPACI partner Andrew Grimshaw of the University of Virginia, to NAVO resources will enable DoD researchers to harness the computing power of multiple high-performance systems simultaneously for large-scale applications, such as battlefield simulations. Metasystems researcher Rich Gallup has ported Legion to the CRAY T90 and T3E platforms, and the code also runs on other NPACI systems.

As distributed computing becomes the norm rather than the exception, and as users and sites begin to collaborate on large-scale projects, security becomes an issue. Tom Perrine, building on his NPACI experience as SDSC's computing security manager, is evaluating inter-realm authentication via Kerberos, the DoD HPC user authentication environment, and large-scale, public-key infrastructures that will allow researchers to use distributed resources securely without having to remember multiple passwords or access many different security platforms.

In other PET projects, Scientific Computing group member Mary Thomas, along with intern Christopher Inkum from Tennessee State University, is developing a Web-based interface to NAVO's resources similar to the NPACI User HotPage, and SDSC visualization researcher Greg Johnson is creating a Data Analysis User Resource. Johnson supervised two interns, Stacy Wake and Tanya Capers from Morgan State University, last summer on this project.

Finally, significant effort is focused on training sessions for researchers with NAVO cycles, an effort led by Kaiser, SDSC's PET training lead. "While most DoD researchers have the expertise and ability to develop computational applications for workstations and vector supercomputers, the installation of powerful scalable computers has so far only benefited a handful who have taken the time to master parallel computing," Kaiser said. "In the upcoming year, we're going to focus on transitioning users from the NAVO CRAY C90 and T90--both vector computers--to the CRAY T3E and SGI Origin 2000 at the MSRC." SDSC has extensive experience in training computational scientists to use such systems and will lead training throughout the next year to help users migrate to the more powerful resources.

"PET is an important program to SDSC and NPACI, both because it allows us to develop and transfer computational expertise in concert with DoD researchers and because it represents significant outreach to government," Boisseau says. "As a recipient of federal funding, helping to protect our military forces--by providing training and assistance to researchers that are performing computational studies of climate, fluid dynamics, environmental quality, among others--is a responsibility we're proud to fulfill." --AF

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