Small team carries large load

January 2011
Filed under:

Sandia National Laboratories computer scientist Ronald Minnich calls the desktop-extension supercomputing project a large effort with a small team.

“To do it with only four other people is pretty unusual,” Minnich says. “I would assume a normal company would allocate at least 10 times as many people to the effort. A lot of things we’ve done are new and we weren’t sure if they were even possible.”

Minnich’s collaborators include David Eckhardt of Carnegie-Mellon University, who “knows an awful lot about Plan 9 and has been involved in different parts of the software at different times,” he says.

And Charles Forsyth at Plan 9 distributor Vita Nuova, who “got the compilers going that we needed going and wrote a lot of the code that allowed us to boot the operating system.”

James McKie is “one of the famous names at Bell Labs in the Plan 9 community. He has done things that I don’t know how many other people, if anyone, could have.”

And Eric Van Hensbergen of IBM “was the guy I talked to in 2006 about changing the focus of my work to a Blue Gene. He’s developed almost all the software to make the vision of desktop extension happen.”

Meanwhile, Minnich, as principal investigator, also has been creating code, writing research proposals and coordinating the group’s efforts.

The team is nearing the end of nearly four years of desktop extension funding, largely provided by DOE’s FAST-OS program to promote research in operating and runtime systems for extreme-scale scientific computing.

“We’ve succeeded to a point,” Minnich says, noting the group was working on a key message-passing interface that allows processes to communicate with each other.

“This is a research program,” he says. “We weren’t creating a product, but we did create ideas and learned some things that will live on beyond this little Plan 9 effort. So I do think that, coming up in another year or two, I’ll look at some software offerings and be able to recognize the influence of the work we did.”

(Visited 615 times, 1 visits today)

About the Author

Monte Basgall is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Miami Herald and Raleigh News & Observer. For 17 years he covered the basic sciences, engineering and environmental sciences at Duke University.

Leave a Comment