Industry Perspective With SpaceX Lead Software Engineer Stephen

March 14, 2018 – 12:43 pm

spaceStephen Jones is a lead software engineer at SpaceX and former CUDA architect at NVIDIA

For this post, Stephen Jones gives his perspective on aspects of technology of great interest to Rescale’s users. As a major contributor to CUDA, many of Rescale’s users have run analyses taking advantage of his work on GPGPU technology, and others have created their own codes using CUDA libraries. From a personal perspective, having returned to work with engineering software after a number of years in general software engineering, I decided it would be interesting to ask Stephen some questions on technological advances of recent years, and how he sees future trends.

To get the ball rolling, I started with the evolution of parallel computing:

Stephen Jones: Around 10 years ago, all computing became parallel computing. Processors stopped getting individually faster, and Moore’s Law was continued through adding more processors (consumer processors all have at least 4 cores, and servers can have 16 or more – any non-parallel program is therefore using no more than 25% of the machine). I think a key effect arises because parallel programming is different to serial programming in several fundamental ways which make it much more difficult. I expect in future (sic) to see parallel programming be done by tools (compilers, libraries, automated programming languages) not by humans, and that this will mark a sea-change in the way all programming is approached.

At Rescale, we have a diverse customer base. Many of our partners in industry or academia work with High Performance Computing (HPC) clusters on-premise. I asked Stephen what HPC means to him:

Stephen Jones: I see this as a general term covering the cutting edge of computing technology. The universe is complex, and we are very far from being able to model it precisely; therefore, we can always find tasks for ever-larger computers. What happens is that, as technology advances what a computer can do, it unlocks new problems which we couldn’t attack before. HPC will always exist, and will always be a niche market. On the other hand, it won’t soon be supplanted by “powerful-enough” desktops because of the aforementioned complexity of the universe. It does act as a very interesting technology incubator, in terms of both hardware and software.

Engineers and scientists worldwide are using the Rescale platform to complement and extend the resources their organization can provide. I asked Stephen about how he sees the utilization of cloud technologies in HPC:

Stephen Jones: This is one of the great enablers of the last 10 years. Amazon’s cloud, in particular, is game-changing and (to my mind) one of the most amazing things in the computing world. It is now acceptable, when trying to get your startup funded, to say “my infrastructure is AWS so we’re not spending money on hardware”. What’s particularly interesting is that it enables HPC as well as basic IT infrastructure, so you begin to see startups doing new things with massive-scale computing which previously were out of reach of such small players. In effect, we can have 100x as many people developing for HPC as ever in the past, and that has to produce new interesting applications.


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