Over the last years, high performance computing has become an affordable resource to many more researchers in the scientific community than ever before. The conjunction of quality open source software and commodity hardware strongly influenced the now widespread popularity of Beowulf class clusters and cluster of workstations.
Among many parallel computational models, message-passing has proven to be an effective one. This paradigm is specially suited for (but not limited to) distributed memory architectures and is used in today’s most demanding scientific and engineering application related to modeling, simulation, design, and signal processing. However, portable message-passing parallel programming used to be a nightmare in the past because of the many incompatible options developers were faced to. Fortunately, this situation definitely changed after the MPI Forum released its standard specification.
High performance computing is traditionally associated with software development using compiled languages. However, in typical applications programs, only a small part of the code is time-critical enough to require the efficiency of compiled languages. The rest of the code is generally related to memory management, error handling, input/output, and user interaction, and those are usually the most error prone and time-consuming lines of code to write and debug in the whole development process. Interpreted high-level languages can be really advantageous for this kind of tasks.
For implementing general-purpose numerical computations, MATLAB 1 is the dominant interpreted programming language. In the open source side, Octave and Scilab are well known, freely distributed software packages providing compatibility with the MATLAB language. In this work, we present MPI for Python, a new package enabling applications to exploit multiple processors using standard MPI “look and feel” in Python scripts.
MATLAB is a registered trademark of The MathWorks, Inc.
What is MPI?
MPI, [mpi-using] [mpi-ref] the Message Passing Interface, is a standardized and portable message-passing system designed to function on a wide variety of parallel computers. The standard defines the syntax and semantics of library routines and allows users to write portable programs in the main scientific programming languages (Fortran, C, or C++).
Since its release, the MPI specification [mpi-std1] [mpi-std2] has become the leading standard for message-passing libraries for parallel computers. Implementations are available from vendors of high-performance computers and from well known open source projects like MPICH [mpi-mpich] and Open MPI [mpi-openmpi].
What is Python?
Python is a modern, easy to learn, powerful programming language. It has efficient high-level data structures and a simple but effective approach to object-oriented programming with dynamic typing and dynamic binding. It supports modules and packages, which encourages program modularity and code reuse. Python’s elegant syntax, together with its interpreted nature, make it an ideal language for scripting and rapid application development in many areas on most platforms.
The Python interpreter and the extensive standard library are available in source or binary form without charge for all major platforms, and can be freely distributed. It is easily extended with new functions and data types implemented in C or C++. Python is also suitable as an extension language for customizable applications.
Python is an ideal candidate for writing the higher-level parts of large-scale scientific applications [Hinsen97] and driving simulations in parallel architectures [Beazley97] like clusters of PC’s or SMP’s. Python codes are quickly developed, easily maintained, and can achieve a high degree of integration with other libraries written in compiled languages.