Friday, January 07, 2011

The Future is the Past

The latest flurry of meetings has been about an Exciting New Project to be run on the supercomputer.

What makes this project particularly exciting is that it is likely to take the form of a literary tragedy. You remember learning about tragedies in English class, right? You have the tragic hero -- in this case, the "hero" is the supercomputer center -- and the tragic hero has to make a choice. No matter which the hero chooses, he is doomed.

Let me tell you about the code that needs to be run. It consists of roughly three quarters of a million lines of Fortran. This is serial code.

Now, to make things interesting -- and tragic -- this is not your run of the mill Fortran code. It is in some sort of weird dialect of Fortran 77, and no one can get it to compile. However, there does exist a Windows binary.

And so we have our choice: Install Wine on the supercomputer in the hopes of doing clever tricks with batch files and scripts in order to get the code to run? Or have someone deal with arcane Fortran and obscure compilers in order to get a native binary in order to get the code to run? And even if you get the code to run, it is still serial Fortran -- and I am skeptical about many, many features of the underlying model.

The computing field really needs to take a page from the construction industry. The phrase "bring that up to code" needs to be applied to projects before they end up with three quarters of a million lines of Fortran.