New parallel computing institute to advance high-performance computing research, education

2/19/2013 CSL Communications

The University of Illinois’ Coordinated Science Laboratory has launched a new interdisciplinary institute that will provide the resources to enable breakthroughs in parallel computing.

Written by CSL Communications

The University of Illinois’ Coordinated Science Laboratory has launched a new interdisciplinary institute that will provide the resources to enable breakthroughs in parallel computing.


The Parallel Computing Institute will arm researchers and educators with the support they need to address major computational challenges in science, engineering, health and business, among other areas. PCI will serve as an incubator for developing and sustaining interdisciplinary centers and initiatives in parallel computing by expanding access to resources and infrastructure, teaching critical skills to graduate and undergraduate students, creating more opportunities for funding, establishing key external partnerships and sharing center creation expertise with research teams who want to do high-impact work in parallel computing.

Parallel computing provides the most powerful and efficient infrastructure for computation-heavy applications, such as the ability to read MRI results in real-time, weather and disease prediction tools, individualized genomic analysis tools for targeted treatments, design tools for new nano-scale materials, ultra-realistic video gaming and videoconferencing, immersive reality and others. Parallel computing is a key element of modern computing, ranging from multicore processors in commodity electronics to supercomputers with nearly a million processing elements.

“Illinois is already a leader in parallel computing, with tremendous depth and breadth in this area,” said PCI Director Bill Gropp, CSL Researcher and the Paul and Cynthia Saylor Professor of Computer Science. “What PCI aims to do is to provide researchers in different disciplines the opportunity to collaborate in an innovative, resource-rich environment. By approaching problems in a strategic, interdisciplinary way, we can develop solutions with greater impact.”

The center will leverage Illinois’ strength in parallel computing, which is already home to the NSF Blue Waters Petascale Computer (currently under construction), the CUDA Center of Excellence, the Intel/Microsoft Universal Parallel Computing Research Center and the Institute for Advanced Computation and Applications Technology. Illinois is also an important participant in projects such as the DOE’s Exascale Software Stack and the DARPA Ubiquitous High-Performance Computing program.

Today’s programmers often lack the skills necessary to write code for many-core systems. One of PCI’s early thrusts will be research and education that make it easier to program on parallel platforms. An example of such research includes the development of middleware that translates the CUDA programming language for field-programmable gate arrays, an adaptable, low-power chip solution.

PCI will also focus on extreme scale, high-end computing for compute-heavy applications, such as those that will utilize resources like Blue Waters, which will boast a peak performance of 10 quadrillion calculations per second when it goes online. Other areas of research include building compilers for single-chip parallelism, designing new architectures for massively parallel systems and creating new algorithms to solve complex problems.

“Engineering at Illinois enjoys a proud legacy within the history of computing—from the original ILLIAC projects to PLATO, and later, to supercomputers,” said Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of Illinois’ College of Engineering. “Today, our research spans the entire field from desktops to Blue Waters. The Parallel Computing Institute provides the strong base of infrastructure and expertise needed to transform the way we design and interact with massively parallel computing systems.”

PCI administrators will work with researchers to prepare and submit proposals, reach out to potential industry partners and connect scientists in different fields to attack problems in a systematic, interdisciplinary way.

The institute intends to capitalize on growing industry interest in parallelism, says Wen-mei Hwu, PCI Chief Scientist, CSL Researcher and AMD-Jerry Sanders Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“Many commercial developers and software vendors are beginning to tackle parallel programming issues,” Hwu said. “We want to be the place where they come for help.”

The Coordinated Science Laboratory, the home of PCI, has been the seedbed and is the sustainer of two other institutes: the Information Trust Institute and the Advanced Digital Sciences Center. PCI joins these CSL-affiliated institutes to tackle societally important problems from a broad interdisciplinary systems perspective.

“In the tradition of CSL initiatives, the Parallel Computing Institute will look at how parallel computing innovations can be created for platforms ranging from embedded devices to the largest supercomputers, and for a diverse set of applications,” said William H. Sanders, director of the Coordinated Science Laboratory. “With a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach, we will develop software and hardware solutions needed to advance technology for the future.”

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This story was published February 19, 2013.