Productive and Efficient Computational Science Through Domain-specific Abstractions

Florian Rathgeber
Imperial College London, Department of Computing, Software Performance Optimisation Group
Imperial College London, 2014


   title={Productive and Efficient Computational Science Through Domain-specific Abstractions},

   author={Rathgeber, Florian},


   school={Imperial College London}


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In an ideal world, scientific applications are computationally efficient, maintainable and composable and allow scientists to work very productively. We argue that these goals are achievable for a specific application field by choosing suitable domain-specific abstractions that encapsulate domain knowledge with a high degree of expressiveness. This thesis demonstrates the design and composition of domain-specific abstractions by abstracting the stages a scientist goes through in formulating a problem of numerically solving a partial differential equation. Domain knowledge is used to transform this problem into a different, lower level representation and decompose it into parts which can be solved using existing tools. A system for the portable solution of partial differential equations using the finite element method on unstructured meshes is formulated, in which contributions from different scientific communities are composed to solve sophisticated problems. The concrete implementations of these domain-specific abstractions are Firedrake and PyOP2. Firedrake allows scientists to describe variational forms and discretisations for linear and non-linear finite element problems symbolically, in a notation very close to their mathematical models. PyOP2 abstracts the performance-portable parallel execution of local computations over the mesh on a range of hardware architectures, targeting multi-core CPUs, GPUs and accelerators. Thereby, a separation of concerns is achieved, in which Firedrake encapsulates domain knowledge about the finite element method separately from its efficient parallel execution in PyOP2, which in turn is completely agnostic to the higher abstraction layer. As a consequence of the composability of those abstractions, optimised implementations for different hardware architectures can be automatically generated without any changes to a single high-level source. Performance matches or exceeds what is realistically attainable by hand-written code. Firedrake and PyOP2 are combined to form a tool chain that is demonstrated to be competitive with or faster than available alternatives on a wide range of different finite element problems.
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