EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Pervasive Parallelism

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Informatics


The worldwide software market, estimated at $250 billion per annum, faces a disruptive challenge unprecedented since its inception: for performance and energy reasons, parallelism and heterogeneity now pervade every layer of the computing systems infrastructure, from the internals of commodity processors (manycore), through small scale systems (GPGPUs and other accelerators) and on to globally distributed systems (web, cloud). This pervasive parallelism renders the hierarchies, interfaces and methodologies of the sequential era unviable. Heterogeneous parallel hardware requires new methods of compilation for new programming languages supported by new system development strategies. Parallel systems, from nano to global, create difficult new challenges for modelling, simulation, testing and verification. This poses a set of urgent interconnected problems of enormous significance, impacting and disrupting all research and industrial sectors which rely upon computing technology. Our CDT will generate a stream of more than 50 experts, prepared to address these challenges by taking up key roles in academic and industrial research and development labs, working to shape the future of the industry. The research resources and industrial connections available to our CDT make us uniquely well placed within the UK to deliver on these aspirations.

The "pervasive parallelism challenge" is to undertake the fundamental research and design required to transform methods and practice across all levels of the ICT infrastructure, in order to exploit these new technological opportunities. Doing so will allow us to raise the management of heterogeneous concurrency and parallelism from a niche activity in the care of experts, to a regularised component of the mainstream. This requires a steady flow of highly educated, highly skilled practitioners, with the ability to relate to opportunities at every level and to communicate effectively with specialists in related areas. These highly skilled graduates must not only have deep expertise in their own specialisms, but crucially, an awareness of relationships to the surrounding computational system.

The need for fundamental work on heterogeneous parallelism is globally recognised by diverse interest groups. In the USA, reports undertaken by the Computing Community Consortium and the National Research Council recognise the paradigm shift needed for this technology to be incorporated into research and industry alike. Both these reports were used as fundamental arguments in initiating the call for proposals by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on Exploiting Parallelism and Scalability, in the context of the NSF's Advanced Computing Infrastructure: Vision and Strategic Plan which calls for fundamental research to answer the question of "how to enable the computational systems that will support emerging applications without the benefit of near-perfect performance scaling from hardware improvements." Similarly, the European Union has identified the need for new models of parallelism as part of its Digital Agenda. Under the agenda goals of Cloud Computing and Software and Services, parallelism plays a crucial role and the Commission asserts the need for a deeper understanding and new models of parallel computation that will enable future technology. Given the UK's global leadership status it is imperative that similar questions be posed and answered here.

Planned Impact

The fundamental purpose of this CDT is to train the cohort of researchers who will address the pervasive parallelism challenge. Thus, its major and lasting impact will be achieved through the work of these graduates and their teams, embedded in the industrial and academic research labs of the coming decades. A secondary impact will be achieved by dissemination of the research results directly produced during their training. These impacts will be felt initially by the ICT industry, both software and hardware, and subsequently by the consumers of the industry's products, both directly and indirectly as users of the services enabled by ICT and ICT supported research.

Our core impact will follow our graduates into the UK and global hardware and software industries. The massive, heterogeneous parallelism which is central to future commodity hardware will only be attractive to systems developers if it can be exploited efficiently and effectively, and software development in the new era can only be economically viable if the resulting applications are correct, durable and portable in the face of architectural evolution. Without a solution, systems will become much more expensive to develop, software will be much less portable, and demand for new generations of hardware will drop, to the severe detriment of both hardware and software sectors. In contrast, a successful new model will allow a return to "business as usual", supported transparently, from the developers perspective, by cross-layer technologies. Our work provides the fundamental conceptual paradigm shift, and concrete evidence of viability, necessary to invigorate software and thus, by sustained demand, hardware development cycles. Given the eminence of our partners and their roles as software and hardware vendors, a cascade effect is likely, in which industries totally external to the project, but supplied by our partners will be influenced. It is quite likely that some of our graduates will form spin-off companies (University of Edinburgh has a strong track record in this respect, with over 150 spin-off companies in the last six years) where appropriate to ensure good commercial exploitation through these and other routes. We will work with national and local organisations including Informatics Ventures and Scottish Enterprise to maximise the economic impact of our research.

In the long run, benefits will shift to end users, who will transparently make more efficient, effective use of their computing resources. The scale of this impact is massive: ICT pervades our society and economy, and in the new era, parallelism pervades ICT. The Technology Strategy Board report on ICT provides a global estimate of $4.3 trillion on ICT spending in 2011, and notes that advanced ICT is required to address major societal changes in healthcare, transport and energy efficiency. In the longer term, the systems developed with the expertise of our graduates, founded on research developed in the Centre, will provide high performance, low energy applications for sectors spanning the economy. This is a grand claim, but a natural consequence of the pervasive nature of IT and of the centrality of the parallelism challenge to future systems.


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