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Is the HPC a solution for my computational needs?

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Is ALICE a solution for my computational needs?

Batch or interactive mode?

Typically, the strength of a supercomputer comes from its ability to run a huge number of programs (i.e., executables) in parallel without any user interaction in real-time. This is what is called “running in batch mode”. It is also possible to run programs at ALICE, which require user interaction. (pushing buttons, entering input data, etc.). Although technically possible, the use of ALICE might not always be the best and smartest option to run those interactive programs. Each time some user interaction is needed, the computer will wait for user input. The available computer resources (CPU, storage, network, etc.) might not be optimally used in those cases. More in-depth analysis with the ALICE staff can unveil whether the ALICE is the desired solution to run interactive programs. Interactive mode is typically only useful for creating quick visualization of your data without having to copy your data to your desktop and back.

What are cores, processors and nodes?

In this manual, the terms core, processor and node will be frequently used, so it’s useful to understand what they are. Modern servers, also referred to as (worker)nodes in the context of HPC, include one or more sockets, each housing a multi-core processor (next to memory, disk(s), network cards, . . . ). A modern processor consists of multiple CPUs or cores that are used to execute computations.

Parallel or sequential programs?

Parallel programs

Parallel computing is a form of computation in which many calculations are carried out simultaneously. They are based on the principle that large problems can often be divided into smaller ones, which are then solved concurrently (“in parallel”). Parallel computers can be roughly classified according to the level at which the hardware supports parallelism, with multi core computers having multiple processing elements within a single machine, while clusters use multiple computers to work on the same task. Parallel computing has become the dominant computer architecture, mainly in the form of multi core processors.

The two parallel programming paradigms most used in HPC are:

  • OpenMP for shared memory systems (multi threading): on multiple cores of a single node
  • MPI for distributed memory systems (multiprocessing): on multiple nodes

Parallel programs are more difficult to write than sequential ones because concurrency introduces several new classes of potential software bugs, of which race conditions are the most common. Communication and synchronization between the different sub tasks are typically some of the greatest obstacles to getting good parallel program performance.

Sequential programs

Sequential software does not do calculations in parallel, i.e., it only uses one single core of a single worker node. It does not become faster by just throwing more cores at it: it can only use one core.

It is perfectly possible to also run purely sequential programs on ALICE.

Running your sequential programs on the most modern and fastest computers in ALICE can save you a lot of time. But it also might be possible to run multiple instances of your program (e.g., with different input parameters) on ALICE, in order to solve one overall problem (e.g., to perform a parameter sweep). This is another form of running your sequential programs in parallel.

What programming languages can I use?

You can use any programming language, any software package and any library provided it has a version that runs on Linux, specifically, on the version of Linux that is installed on the compute nodes, CentOS 7.7.

For the most common programming languages, a compiler is available on CentOS 7.7. Supported and common programming languages on ALICE are C/C++, FORTRAN, Java, Perl, Python, MATLAB, R, etc.

Supported and commonly used compilers are GCC and Intel.

Additional software can be installed “on demand”. Please contact ALICE staff to see whether ALICE can handle your specific requirements.

What operating systems can I use?

All nodes in ALICE run under CentOS 7.7, which is a specific version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This means that all programs (executables) should be compiled for CentOS 7.7.

Users can connect from any computer to the ALICE, regardless of the Operating System that they are using on their personal computer. Users can use any of the common Operating Systems (such as Windows, macOS or any version of Linux/Unix/BSD) and run and control their programs on ALICE.

A user does not need to have prior knowledge about Linux; all of the required knowledge is explained in this tutorial.