Virginia Tech professor Wu Feng hopes to transform supercomputing (Credit: Virginia Tech)

US Air Force project to transform supercomputing

The designer of one of the world’s “greenest” supercomputers hopes to “transform supercomputing” after winning a major contract.

More than a year ago, Virginia Tech announced the creation of HokieSpeed, a supercomputer so energy efficient that it was the highest-ranked commodity supercomputer in the U.S. on the Green500 List, a ranking of the most energy-efficient supercomputers in the world, in 2011.

Now Wu Feng, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech who designed and built HokieSpeed, has landed a contract woth up to $6 million over five years, to increase simulation speeds of computational fluid dynamics for the air force’s micro air vehicles (MAVs), a class of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Using accelerator-based supercomputers like HokieSpeed Prof Feng hopes to herald a new age in multi- and many-core parallel computing by coupling innovative advances in algorithms and mathematics with engineering progress in the co-design of hardware and software in supercomputing.

To achieve his goals Prof Feng has pulled together a team of aerospace and mechanical engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians from Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University.

In 1965 Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore observed that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years, a prediction that has proved accurate for almost half a century and guides long-term planning in the semiconductor industry.

“But much of the realizable performance remains untapped,” said Prof Feng.

He believes many domain scientists and engineers are still learning how to “fully exploit parallel hardware and co-design software for performance gains.”

Feng added: “Furthermore, coupling hardware-software co-design with advances in algorithmic innovation offers the promise of multiplicative speed-ups.”

Feng has already achieved significant speed-up in recent supercomputing research, leveraging a co-design approach with hardware, software, and algorithms for problems in bioinformatics, biophysics, neuroscience, and seismology.

And the Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) obviously believes he can do even better, after awarding an initial $3.5 million over the first three years of the contract with the option for a two-year extension at another $2.5 million.

From Virginia Tech, the engineering members of the interdisciplinary team include: Christopher Roy, associate professor of aerospace and ocean engineering; Adrian Sandu, professor of computer science; and Danesh Tafti, professor of mechanical engineering. Eric de Sturler, professor of mathematics in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, is also a member of the team.

From North Carolina State University, Hong Luo and Jack Edwards, both of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Frank Mueller of computer science, will also be working on this research project.

Feng’s new interdisciplinary team plans to develop computational fluid dynamic codes and a supporting hardware-software ecosystem for the simulation of MAVs. Based on his earlier work, Feng said the Virginia Tech research team should be able to “achieve substantial speed-up over current simulations and provide significantly better utilization of the underlying and co-designed hardware-software of a supercomputer.”

The micro air vehicle (MAV) can be as small as about five inches with an aircraft close to insect size expected in the near future. In addition to having numerous military applications, the tiny robotic instruments are useful in hazardous conditions such as collapsed buildings or in nuclear power plants.

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