August 05, 2005
CCT Hires Expert Thomas Sterling
The Center for Computation & Technology, or CCT, at LSU has
announced the hire of supercomputing expert Thomas Sterling. Sterling
is leaving his position at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to
continue his computing research in Louisiana. The computer scientist
will arrive at the LSU campus on Aug. 22, accepting a professorship in
the LSU computer science department.
Sterling says that LSU has the kind of environment that will allow him
to contribute and collaborate. "Working at the CCT will give me a
chance to continue to make an impact in high performance computing, and
that is what is most important to me," said Sterling. "It's a place
where creativity in computing is taking place."
Sterling received his Ph.D. from MIT as a Hertz Fellow in 1984. He has
worked in support of the President's Information Technology Advisory
Committee, and was a member of the DOD Integrated High End Computing
Initiative. Sterling also participated in the High End Computing
Revitalization Task Force. He has published many papers on
computer-system architecture and holds six patents. He has authored and
co-authored several books in the field of high-performance computing,
including the influential books "Enabling Technologies for Petaflops
Computing" and "How to Build a Beowulf."
Sterling is best known for his work as leader of the Beowulf project,
which he started in late 1993 at NASA. This world-famous project led to
an efficient way of building high-end computers by networking
off-the-shelf PCs. These computers, labeled Beowulf-class clusters,
have demonstrated exceptional performance to cost advantages when
compared to custom high-end computers. These clusters dominate the
industry's popular list of the world's Top 500 Supercomputers at
www.top500.org, and LSU's SuperMike cluster was made possible because
of this project.
Although the Beowulf model and the class of clusters it helped to
create is the dominant form of high-end computer in use today, Sterling
believes that it may no longer be the most effective way to build
future generation supercomputers. He explains that "the great irony of
his life" lies in the fact that Beowulf became so popular that it is
now hard for researchers in his field to break away from that model and
pursue innovative and superior approaches.
"We are trapped by the success of Beowulf and using the same paradigm
as 20 years ago. You do have to make it cost effective, but the urban
legends of computing are holding us back. Processors don't have to be
complicated," he said, "a more simple architecture can be built that
works better and more efficiently in a parallel computer."
Sterling is now researching a type of "high density" machine called the
"MIND" architecture, which stands for Memory, Intelligence and Network
Device. He believes this design is a more innovative and effective way
to build the next generation of high-performance computer.
One class of high-density system being developed by industry involves
multicore chips. These computer chips each have multiple processors.
IBM's Blue Gene/L is a multicore architecture and is the fastest
general-purpose computer in the world. The Sony Playstation 3, due out
some time in the next year, also uses multicore high-density processor
chips. This gaming device has nine processors per chip.
Sterling's MIND architecture also uses a multicore chip, but this new
design will achieve a higher degree of efficiency. "It solves problems
of latency, scheduling and synchronization for parallel computing
resulting in lower cost, lower power, and ease of programming not found
on today's high-performance systems," said Sterling.
Dan Reed, Director of the Renaissance Computing Institute and recent
chair of the computational science subcommittee of the President's
Information Technology Advisory Committee, has worked with Sterling in
a variety of roles, including as part of the High End Computing
Revitalization Task Force. Reed feels that an internationally known
scientist like Sterling will move the CCT forward. "He brings a new
dimension to CCT," said Reed, "combining a focus on new technologies
that are grounded in the needs of the most demanding computational
Sterling said that the CCT at LSU is "an exceptional environment"
within which to continue his research. He believes the vision, stable
funding, and collaborative environment will help bolster his key
projects. He is the second of two CCT hires within the computer science
department this year.
"Sterling's presence in the department will bring a new dimension to
the reputation and prestige of the department and provides a solid base
in terms of research to the department in many areas of
high-performance computing," said Sitharama Iyengar, chair of the
computer science department.
"Something new and special is happening at LSU," said Sterling. "There
are experts in-house working with outside people coming in. The old
model was for centers of excellence; now it's changing to circles of
excellence. CCT exemplifies this new research methodology."
CCT Director Ed Seidel said, "We are thrilled to have someone as
distinguished and energetic as Thomas joining LSU. The CCT now covers
the bases with leading researchers in areas from advanced grid and
supercomputing software toolkits to the architectures themselves."
Sterling plans to utilize resources like Access Grid technology for
video conferencing and a visitors program, which is available at the
CCT and at most top research centers. He believes that these tools
support the collaborative model of a circle of excellence.
He is also interested in using the state's new high-bandwidth optical
network. "My team will be supported by the LONI network to facilitate
collaboration with other institutions," said Sterling. The researcher
says that a network like this can help to achieve the collective
expertise needed to attack the complex problems of science.
Although Louisiana has not traditionally been associated with research
in high-performance computing, Sterling was attracted to LSU. The rich
research environment and the community impressed him.
"It's not too rural or too intense," said Sterling. "I found
intelligent people who understand where they are and where they are
going. It's actually a highly cosmopolitan group of people that you
would find at any good university."
Sterling believes that the state's support of technology at
universities is the right model to speed Louisiana forward. "The
legislated state funding is based on a local environment with an
interest in technology. This is how you bring in talent and leap frog
toward success." Sterling says that he would like to help Gov. Blanco
achieve her mission for the state. "I would be proud to be a part of
the state's rise and contribute to it achieving its long-term vision.
It can be a driver for the future of the nation."
The Center for Computation & Technology, or CCT, at LSU is an
interdisciplinary research environment for advancing computational
sciences, technologies and the disciplines they touch. The center's
efforts serve Louisiana through international collaboration, promoting
progress in leading edge and revolutionary technologies in academia and
industry. The center is funded by the Louisiana Legislature's
Information Technology Initiative.
Look for an upcoming HPCwire interview with Mr. Sterling!