AFRL’s Maui site lowers barriers to high performance computing

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — The Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) composed of Air Force Research Laboratory researchers and Department of Defense contractors, led a team on behalf of the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP) to make container technology available to laboratory scientists, engineers and software developers. AFRL’s Maui site hosts one of five DoD’s supercomputing centers, and is a part of AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate located on Kirtland Air Force Base.

Software containers are a modern software (SW) deployment technique that permits SW developers to more easily keep pace with rapid developments, and greatly increases SW portability and reproducibility.

Containers have several major advantages. They save SW developers and users significant work, as well as time and expense in setting up and running software. They are also critical for machine learning applications as they allow the machine learning software to keep up with the rapid pace of machine learning technology.

While SW containers are in wide use on desktop systems, the additional complexities of supercomputing hardware, software and network systems require an approach that precludes the inadvertent, or deliberate, introduction of malware onto DoD’s supercomputers.

“Though containers are still in beta testing, early adopters are reporting significant time savings using container technology,” said Laura Ulibarri, AFRL’s director of the MHPCC. “An example of this is that contractors supporting the HPCMP Institute for Imaging Sensor Exploitation project with customers from Army, Navy, and Air Force research labs, have reduced the time to deploy software updates from three weeks to a few minutes.”

Chris Kotfila, a developer with Kitware, who has been working with the HPCMP Institute, said that in a two week period, the team was able to complete three updates –including a security update.

“This is allowing the team to devote more of their time to developing new features and capabilities, and less time compiling and troubleshooting,” Kotfila said. “Containers have freed our team to be more efficient and more confident in the solutions we’re delivering.”

Ulibarri reports that never in the history of High Performance Computing has it been so easy to move software from a laptop to a High Performance Computer than with container technology.

“Containers will make High Performance Computing accessible to every scientist and engineer across all DoD labs,” she said.