Survey of GPGPU Programming tools on Windows

The following is a summary of commonly used tools and techniques for General Purpose Graphics Processing Unit (GPGPU) Programming which is an increasingly relevant topic to the modern programmer.  This is not an exhaustive list, but is a set solid tools that make it easier to embrace this amazing technique for massive parallelization that is changing the way we process data.

NVIDIA CUDA + Visual C++

http://www.nvidia.com/object/cuda_home_new.html

NVIDIA, who are undoubtedly the leaders in GPU programming, provide a lot of support to the community through their website and forums.  NVIDIA’s integration into Visual Studio 2010 is really quite good and they provide fantastic tools to provide deep insights into your GPU (like Parallel NSight).  These tools are also free, though you do have to register for them.

This approach requires you to write your code in C++ in a mostly STL like manner, but you still get all the great features of Visual Studio.  If you’re not afraid of C++ this is a good route to follow.  Your code is actually compiled by NVIDIA’s compiler and becomes a GPU executable (or the parts of that run on the GPU do).  Directives tell the compiler which methods run on what hardware.

CUDAFY.NET

http://cudafy.codeplex.com/

This is one of my favorites.  This toolset sits on top of the NVIDIA tools and uses reflection to turn your C# into a CUDA kernel (execution unit).  You simply decorate a method with an attribute and you’re set – it runs on the GPU card.  This is really slick and you can see the C++ that it gets translated too.  Like with the raw NVIDIA approach you still need to manage moving memory around, but this is really a pretty good tool and I’ve been using it a lot.  It is actively developed and supported and the community around it, though small, is very responsive.  If you’re not comfortable with C++ try this out.

Microsoft Accelerator

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/Accelerator/

This is perhaps the most compelling of the current set of tools and is put out by Microsoft Research.  It is also a fairly radical departure from the tools above – or any others I have seen.  Accelerator is focused quite squarely on array processing (which is the most common type of GPGPU example) and is a functional programming model that translates your operations to parallel code.  Unlike the previous approaches this translation can be targeted to multi-core CPU, CUDA (NVIDIA), and DirectX environments.  This is really promising and really cool.  I can definitely say it makes parallelizing computations on many core systems really easy, but I’m not sure yet if it provides the low level memory management that be so critical to CUDA implementations.  I plan to keep investigating.  This is more than the Parallel For framework, it’s a different approach to writing your algorithms.  I like it.

Microsoft AMP

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh265137(v=vs.110).aspx (preview documentation)

Finally there is C++ Accelerated Massive Parallelism (AMP) from Microsoft.  This is a combination of Accelerator and CUDA in some ways.  You do write unmanaged code, in an STL style, but it can target multiple platforms (a pretty serious shortcoming in CUDA – or at least AMD would say so).  This is via a DirectX target.

I’ve not had a chance to work with this yet, but it is a part of Visual Studio 11 and I’m sure I’ll get my hands into that next week at the MVP Summit.  Microsoft plans to make these language extensions / features free and open (potentially) to provide a C++ alternative to the strictly C focused OpenCL.  This is really promising.

Solution template for BizTalk 2010 Patterns created!

Madhav Abhyankar has created a Visual Studio solution template that implements the exact recommendations from my book Microsoft BizTalk Server 2010 Patterns.  This is a great way to save a lot of time on a solution and follow what I believe is a great architecture for BizTalk applications.

Another class for BizTalk 2010 Patterns

I just taught chapters 4-8 to a client and had a great time doing it.  I did find some minor corrections with the book, mostly namespaces, but I will have a write up soon.  The class went fairly well considering I let everyone use their own laptop (a change from my normal strategy of supplying a VM).  This did cause some issues, which is prompting me to create an installation and preparation guide, but it worked out fairly well. 

Thank you to all who attended and as always, feedback is welcome! 

How Cloud Computing is Changing IT Strategy

We all know cloud computing is on the horizon (although it’s here in full swing for many).  Over the last few years what exactly cloud computing is and how it will work has been starting to solidify beyond the hype of the original proponents and marketers and into real products and strategies.  I wouldn’t call myself an early adopter too often and that has certainly been the case with cloud computing.  To me it’s just another tool in the toolbox.

Recent experiences with several clients have made me realize how profound the changes brought by cloud computing really are in both large and small organizations.  One such experience was reviewing an “IT plan” that was focused almost exclusively on the mechanics of IT: servers, backups, etc.  This is almost the ‘keeping the lights on’ approach to IT and there’s isn’t a whole lot of strategy to it.  It was while reviewing this plan that it struck me: cloud computing already is changing my perception of IT strategy.

IT strategies focused on email, servers, generators, and backups are increasingly becoming relics of the past.  These services are so far removed from the businesses they support that they do not even translate into meaningful concepts.  That we think they do is only a reflection of how deep the technological constraints of the past have been on businesses.  Really, what does a server or a backup have to do with any business?  These things are only noticed when they fail.  These lowest level aspects of IT may actually be the easiest to transition to the cloud precisely because they are so low level and so far removed from business capabilities.

As we look at the IT landscape cloud computing is finally starting to offer substantial changes to an IT operating environment.  Uptime, backups, generators; most of these things are a given with modern cloud solutions; this allows IT practitioners to focus on more business value delivery rather than technical implementation.