November 2006 B
High Productivity Computing Systems and the Path Towards Usable Petascale Computing
Declan Murphy, Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Thomas Nash, Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Lawrence Votta, Jr., Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Jeremy Kepner, MIT Lincoln Laboratory

1. Introduction

Establishing a single, reasonably objective and quantitative framework to compare competing high productivity computing systems has been difficult to accomplish. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the inevitable subjective component of the concept of productivity. Compounding the difficulty, there are many elements that make up productivity and these are weighted and interrelated differently in the wide range of contexts into which a computer may be placed. Significantly improved productivity for high performance government and scientific computing is the key goal of the High Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) program. Evaluating this critical characteristic across these contexts is clearly essential to attaining and confirming this goal.

This is not entirely a new phenomenon. Anyone who has driven a large scale computing budget request and procurement has had to address the problem of turning a set of preferences and criteria, newly defined by management, into a budget justification and a procurement figure of merit that will pass muster with agency (and OMB) auditors. The process of creating such a procurement figure of merit helps to focus the mind and cut through the complexity of competing user demands and computing options.

Imagining that we are initiating a procurement where Productivity = Utility/Cost will be the criteria, we have developed a total productivity figure of merit. This framework includes such system measurables as machine performance and reliability, developer productivity, and administration overhead and effectiveness of resource allocation. This is all in the context of information from the particular computing environment that may be proposing and procuring an HPCS computer. We note that this framework is applicable across the broad range of environments represented by HPCS mission partners and others with science and enterprise missions that are candidates for such systems.

The value of each variable in our figure of merit is intended to come from a single source, either from one of the HPCS R&D areas or from a mission organization that may procure a system. While we identify the potential source of each value, we do recognize that some of these numbers will not be easy to obtain, particularly those involving the impact of system design on human productivity. Nonetheless, we believe that, at the least, this framework will identify the individual metrics that these efforts should strive to measure. In the end, we will all have to admit that some combination of measurements, informed guesses, and subjective evaluations will be needed to arrive at a figure of merit number.

We also recognize that there is coupling between some of the variables we treat as independent. For example, a user's productivity is impacted by the way jobs are allocated. To deal with this, we suggest assuming an environment in which a particular variable is determined. This means that values for all the other variables, their “operating point,” must be specified for each measurement of a variable. 1 For measurable variables, these operating points come from measurements and studies. One could iterate to a final answer, but we argue that this is unnecessary because the effect of any such coupling, with reasonable operating point guesses, is far smaller than the precision (such as it might be) of any of the measured variables involved.

Not surprisingly, our figure of merit has much in common with ideas expressed in earlier HPCS work. 3 However, we extend beyond this in the following ways:

In a well-balanced HPCS, significant costs will be incurred for resources other than just the CPU cycles that dominate thinking in the commodity cluster architectures. In particular, memory and bandwidth resources will have cost as much or more than CPU, and efficient programs and job allocation will have to optimize use of memory and bandwidth resources as much as CPU. Our framework allows for the inclusion of any set of significantly costly resources.

A single job may be highly optimized, and those in the project it comes from will inevitably believe its utility (or value) approaches infinity. However, a computer center must optimize the total workload, given its organization's evaluation of relative priority (utility or value) for each project and job. The overall utility of the total output of the computer depends on the degree to which the allocation of system resources reflects the institution's priorities and determination of value (or utility). Further, the productivity of the administration staff depends on a system's administration environment and tools, and on its stability. 5

The remainder of this article is organized as follows. In Section 2 we define the productivity figure of merit as a combination of factors, where each factor represents a different aspect of productivity that can be evaluated relatively independently of the others. In Section 3 we show how the figure of merit captures the perspectives on productivity of people in different institutional roles and we show how productivity ratios can be used to simplify the evaluation process. In Section 4 we discuss the need for productivity benchmarking and propose the use of operating points to narrow the scope of the analysis needed for a productivity evaluation. We provide a recipe for using the figure of merit in Section 5. We conclude and describe our experience applying the figure of merit using a simple spreadsheet (available from the authors) in Section 6.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Reference this article
"A System-wide Productivity Figure of Merit," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 2, Number 4B, November 2006 B. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2006/11/a-system-wide-productivity-figure-of-merit/

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