Nuke agency develops Linux tools

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"Linux weighs in"

The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration is funding a project to develop open-source performance analysis tools that researchers at government laboratories, universities and other places would use.

Silicon Graphics Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif., is developing an open-source version of its commercially available SpeedShop tool aimed at accelerating research efforts on Linux-based operating systems. The University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland are collaborating on the $6.8 million project, including just less than $3 million in federal funding, said Steve Reinhardt, principal engineer at SGI.

"To me, the idea that an agency could give a vendor incentive to move something to the open-source world, that's pretty powerful," he said. "Because, effectively, once it's in the open-source world, it's there. You can't take it out."

Reinhardt said Energy officials deserve some credit for an innovative approach because "left to our own devices, we would not have done this. We would not have been able to afford it."

He said that although a huge amount of effort has gone into the Linux kernel and some subsystems, good programming environment tools, such as the analysis software, have been scarce.

SGI officials plan to provide a baseline open-source version of the SpeedShop product — which will be called Open/SpeedShop — by summer 2006. The tool will help users analyze the performance of applications and tasks, eliminate bottlenecks and bugs, and improve overall application performance.

As part of the contract, the company will act as the gatekeeper for the baseline version, meaning it will play an active role in making sure the tool works and incorporating changes in standards. The company also will offer a Pro version, which would have extra features and would be available only from SGI.

Reinhardt said company officials see a potential for researchers at laboratories and universities to do programming tools research with SGI's baseline version instead of creating a tool from scratch.

"They can build their own plug-ins; they can modify the baseline, however they want to do that," he said. "We have talked to some developers of both academic and commercial tools [who] view the existence of this standard tool — what we hope would be a standard — as a very positive thing, and we expect that some of those other groups that today have their own tools will rebase their work onto SpeedShop. So it just makes it a more robust ecosystem there with more people pitching in."

Of course, he said if the baseline version improves, it will be harder for company officials to offer the Pro version, and that's a reality they will have to face.

"On the other hand, to the extent that the baseline version is doing everything people want then maybe we don't really care if we don't have a Pro version," Reinhardt said. "Our primary business is enabling new science, and if there's an open-source tool that does that just fine, then we're probably happy to take that at face value and put our efforts elsewhere."

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