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5.2 A ``Packet'' History of Message-passingSystems


The evolution of the various message-passing paradigms used on the Caltech/JPL machines involved three generations of hypercubes and many different software concepts, which ultimately led to the development of Express,  a general, asynchronous buffered communication system for heterogeneous multiprocessors.

Originally designed, developed, and used by scientists with applications-oriented research goals, the Caltech/JPL system software was written to generate near-term needed capability. Neither hindered nor helped by any preconceptions about the type of software that should be used for parallel processing, we simply built useful software and added it to the system library.

Hence, the software evolved from primitive hardware-dependent implementations into a sophisticated runtime library, which embodied the concepts of ``loose synchronization,''  domain decomposition, and machine independence. By the time the commercial machines started to replace our homemade hypercubes, we had evolved a programming model that allowed us to develop and debug code effectively, port it between different parallel computers, and run with minimal overheads. This system has stood the test of time and, although there are many other implementations, the functionality of CrOS and Express appears essentially correct. Many of the ideas described in this chapter, and the later Zipcode  System of Section 16.1, are embodied in the current message-passing standards activity, MPI  [Walker:94a]. A detailed description of CrOS and Express will be found in [Fox:88a] and [Angus:90a], and is not repeated here.

How did this happen?

Guy Robinson
Wed Mar 1 10:19:35 EST 1995