Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



Bruce Hendrickson

Bruce Hendrickson

Associate Director for Computation

The High Value of Open-Source Software

FROM defense technology and energy solutions to basic science research, software plays a critical role in Lawrence Livermore’s mission activities. Our large collection of software is a precious Laboratory asset, one that benefits both Lawrence Livermore and other national laboratories, and in many cases, the public at large.

For decades, the Laboratory has provided a portion of its software to the public as open source. Although it may seem counterintuitive for the Laboratory to release software to external users at no cost, our investment in open-source software (OSS) is an essential element of the institution’s work. Livermore’s OSS manages installation, authentication, storage, performance, analytics, and other key high-performance computing (HPC) tasks. The Laboratory also develops large-scale application codes for external use. The feature article, Ambassadors of Code, describes several projects that illustrate the breadth of capabilities provided by our open-source portfolio.

Lawrence Livermore’s active participation within the open-source community creates a symbiotic relationship in which staff can collaborate with external users, including other government agencies, to produce cost-effective solutions to complex problems and bolster software to its full potential. For instance, HPC centers, such as those at Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, can work together to increase parallel performance of a multiphysics code. Through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Advanced Simulation and Computing Program, we are developing open-source tools to ensure portability of HPC codes to next-generation architectures. Progress on high-profile, multi-institutional initiatives, such as DOE’s Exascale Computing Project, is made possible through shared commitment to open-source technology. The Laboratory abounds with examples of how OSS helps us prepare for future needs and decrease development and maintenance costs.

Engaging with the open-source community further enables the Laboratory to stay at the forefront of HPC advances. External users and developers provide feedback on software functionality, uncover bugs, and contribute to enhancements. With their assistance, we improve software quality and accelerate development. High-quality software helps build our brand and reputation within the broader scientific community and HPC industry, leading to new collaborations and business opportunities. The open-source model thus adds tremendous value to the Laboratory’s computational capabilities, which helps it remain competitive and successful.

In addition, Livermore scientists frequently use tools already available in the wider software community to save time and effort. A scientist can analyze a data set with an open-source natural language processing program instead of building one from scratch. Developers may also leverage an open-source programming language to rewrite older software for modern use cases. This approach often serves Livermore’s national security mission. For example, a Laboratory physics team is adapting visual processing OSS for analyzing images captured from Cold War–era atmospheric nuclear test films. (See S&TR, October/November 2017, Preserving the Past to Protect the Future.) Data from these films help validate simulations of a weapon’s energy yield, which supports stockpile stewardship.

OSS also aids in recruiting the Laboratory’s next generation of computer scientists and engineers. When an outside user community works on Livermore OSS, a hiring pipeline emerges. One possible scenario involves graduate students using the software as part of projects at their universities. Later, when they become summer interns at the Laboratory, their mentors could evaluate their potential as future employees through their contributions to OSS software and user collaborations.

Employee retention is equally important. Embracing OSS empowers Laboratory staff, providing an avenue by which they can connect with user communities to work on software they are passionate about. In doing so, developers grow their professional reputations and networks. The Laboratory encourages this exploration and innovation as part of career development. Many Livermore scientists have received prestigious recognition—including R&D 100 awards—for their open-source tools.

As we begin a new year, Livermore’s open-source development continues apace. Users all over the world are exploring the Laboratory’s OSS and reaching out to exchange ideas. Such engagement creates relationships that can inspire advances, new collaborations, and even development of commercial products. The Laboratory’s Innovation and Partnerships Office provides crucial guidance and support for these opportunities, strengthening the Laboratory’s reputation and capabilities. Ultimately, OSS increases our mindshare in the scientific community. The resulting technological growth positions Livermore for solving tomorrow’s computational challenges.