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Parallel Computing in Russia

by Ya. Fet 1 and D. Pospelov 2

1 Computing Center, Siberian Division of the
Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk, Russia

2 Computing Center of the
Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

Published in: Lect. Notes in Comp. Sci., Vol. 964, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1995. pp. 464-476

Abstract.  A brief sketch of the history of parallel  computing  in
Russia is presented.  Due to certain circumstances, this history is
practically unknown in  the  West.  Meanwhile,  Russian  scientists
seem to have made a valuable  and  original  contribution  to  this
important field of computer science.
The overview contains  short  summaries  of  the  most  interesting
russian investigations in  the  domains  of  Parallel  Programming,
Parallel Computing Systems, and Distributed Computing  in  Cellular
The list of references covers about 50 works. 



In various periods of the history of science, Russia presented to the world prominent, original works in mathematics and other fields of exact sciences. This concerns as well the comparatively young Computer Science. The history of computers and computer science in Russia abounds in contradictions. From the very beginning of the foundation of computer science, the leading Russian scientists made a valuable contribution to the development of numerical mathematics, mathematical logic, linear programming, theory of automata, etc. They originated new trends in computer hardware and software, particularly concerning the parallel paradigms. Notable were also the research in cellular arrays, formal methods of design and analysis of digital devices, computer aided design of computers, etc. The early works of Mikhail Gavrilov should be mentioned on application of Boolean algebra to the design of digital circuits. These works have been made simultaneously and independently from Claude Shannon. A very important role in the development of thery of automata and of logical design in Russia played the famous "Schools" organized by Gavrilov. Fundamental research in logic and theory of automata has been done in the late 50s and early 60s by Boris Trakhtenbrot and Victor Glushkov. In the early research of Andrey Lyapunov, Yuri Yanov, and Andrey Ershov have been laid the theoretical foundations of programming as such, as well as of automation of programming, and of parallel programming. Unfortunately, the poor Russian technology and incompetence of Soviet management, left Russia persistently behind the West in building and using computers. There exists a number of papers on the history of Soviet computers (see, for instance, [1-4]). As a rule, these papers are restricted to the description and analysis of production models and families of computers, compiled from official Soviet sources. An interesting survey on Russian research in programming has been published by Andrey Ershov [5]. Some information concerning the period of late 80s is contained in a special issue of the "Communications of the ACM" [6]. Recently, two interesting books by Boris Malinovsky have been published in Kiev, presenting some important pages of the history of Soviet computers [7,8]. Of course, each of the mentioned surveys concerns the subject of computer performance. However, one can hardly find there any specific information on the state and the development of parallel computing in Russia. Meanwhile, Russian scientists seem to have made a valuable and original contribution to this important field of computer science. These investigations are practically unknown in the West. Generally, the Russian research in computer science can be divided into five fields: 1. Theory of automata. 2. Parallel Programming. 3. Parallel Computing Systems. 4. Distributed Processing. 5. Artificial Intelligence. In the present survey, most attention will be paid to the second, third, and fourth of the mentioned topics. It should be noted that the contents of this paper reflects, in the first place, the authors' point of view. Besides, it does not pretend to be exhaustive. Historically, several centers of computer science and technology have appeared in Russia, the main of these being Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Novosibirsk. The Siberian Scientific Center, created near the city of Novosibirsk in the late 50s, also known as "Akademgorodok" ("Academic Village"), was conceived from the beginning, as a complex Cybernetic Center, where the applied research in different areas would be supported by the leading development of mathematics and computer science. During the 60s and 70s, in the Academic Village have been working such distinguished scientists as Sergey Sobolev, Leonid Kantorovich, Alexey Lyapunov, Andrey Ershov, and others. In the beginning of the 60s, we have had in Novosibirsk only some models of first-generation computers of Soviet production. Later, in 1968, the comparatively powerful second-generation BESM-6 appeared, with the peak performance of 1 MFlops. It was clear to all of us that the clock frequency has a definite limit of increasing, while the requirements to the performance will ever be rising. Hence, the only way to the future high-performance computers had to be in parallel computation, in parallel systems. In retrospect, we can state that, without exaggeration, beginning from a certain moment, the Russian research in parallel computing became concentrated in Siberia.


A valuable contribution to the formation of ideas of parallel programming and parallel computations has been made by Leonid Kantorovich, a noted Russian mathematician and economist, Nobel laureate. As early as in 1949 he practically used what we would now call a "multiprocessing system" made of a large number of punched card tabulating machines, to compute simultaneously tables of Bessel functions for all integer values of indices from 0 to 120. One of the earliest researches in massively parallel processing was due to Leonid Kantorovich who described in 1957 the so-called "large-block programming system" [9]. He suggested to consider as basic objects operated by the system ordered sets called quantities (such as vectors, matrices, etc.), a single number being the simplest quantity, called an element. Some special operations on quantities were introduced: arithmetical operations as extensions of usual arithmetic on any element of the quantity, and geometrical operations which do not change the values of quantities but only transform their structures. Later on, some of the ideas of the large-block approach were developed further in such programming languages as APL, PL/1, Algol-68, etc. Recently, the need for efficient use of highly parallel systems led to the appearance of "data parallel programming" which has much similarity with Kantorovich's large- block approach.
In early 60s in the Power Engineering Institute (Moscow) was started, under the leadership of Dimitri Pospelov, research of creating models for description of structures of complicated programs and, particularly, for selection of those program branches which could be executed independently and concurrently. In 1966 the first publications appeared concerning these models called level- parallel forms (LPF). The LPF language, allowing for formalization of most important issues in the field of parallel computing, has been widely used in the USSR by researchers working in this field. The level-parallel form is a graph the verteces of which are identified with the segments of the program subject to parallelizing while the arcs correspond to the functional dependences between the segments and the communications between the processes. A typology of LPFs has been developed based on the topology of corresponding graphs, and the requirements to the segmantation of the initial program were formulated ensuring effective execution of LPFs in parallel computing systems consisting of identical or different computers [10]. The notion of LPF led to the correct statement of the problem of optimizing the distribution of a program in a multiprocessor system with a given number of computers, as well as to the search for an optimal configuration of the system executing a given LPF [10,11].
The inefficiency of programs written beforehand motivated the search for such means of description of algorithms which could explicitly contain all possibilities of parallel execution of the future program. Several versions of specific languages for the description of parallel features of algorithms have been suggested. One of the most interesting was the computational models language proposed in the late 60s by Enn Tyugu [12]. Tyugu treated a computational model as a network the nodes of which correspond to some functional modules, while the edges characterize the interconnections between these modules reflecting possible ways of organization of computations. The final version of the program to be realized (either in sequential or in parallel form) is derived from the model by means of appropriate logical inference. Based on these models, conceptual programming languages have been constructed the main feature of which is the presence of semantic memory intended for storing concepts of a given application domain. This memory is accessed by the system during compilation [13]. The computational models turned the attention of specialists in parallel programming to the possibility of exploiting more elaborate semantic networks, in order to specify the variety of alternatives of execution of the computational process. Further investigations in this field led to the design of a wave model of computations in semantic networks, where the proper computing is substituted by procedures of pattern matching and logical inference well-known in artificial intelligence. The pattern matching became basic procedures in the VOLNA-0 language [14], ensuering highest possible parallelising. Later on, various powerful parallel logical inference procedures in semantic networks have been designed [15]. The research in models of parallel computing based on semantic networks led also to the design of a high-performance computing system, under an international project PAMIR [16].
A unique direction in the theory of parallel processes is associated with the ideas of collective behaviour of automata promoted by Michail Tsetlin and his followers beginning ftom the late 50s. These works outran more then by 30 years the Western research in multiagence systems. In the frame of the theory of collective behaviour of automata, many problems of functioning of distributed computing systems without centralized control have been stated and solved. If the system exploits at times synchronization, than the range of problems of decentralized control reduces to the classical problem of spreading of signals in a chain of shots. This problem, formulated for the first time by J.Myhill, found its efficient solution in the works of Victor Varshavsky and his followers [17]. The latest results on this subject are contained in [18]. If, however, the distributed system operates in a completely asynchronous mode, than the models of collective behaviour ensure efficient control algorithms overperforming to a considerable extent the known "notice board" procedure [19]. The technique of collective behaviour allowed to create a theory of aperiodic automata able to master numerous hard problems in organizing parallel computations, in particular, the arbitrage problem [20]. In [21] fundamental conceptions are stated of the theory of asynchronous parallel processes.
The main cause of inaccuracy in computer calculations is known to be the rounding errors. The necessety of rounding is attributed to the fixed and relatively low word length of operands in most computers. In the end of the 80s Alexander Vazhenin (Novosibirsk) developed a virtual vector processor for implementation of high accuracy arithmetic called SPARTH (Super-precision Parallel ARiTHmetic) [22]. In SPARTH, high accuracy is achieved by the use of ultra-high length of operands, as well as by dynamic control of their capacity in the course of computations. This technique allows for elimination of rounding errors. The overall high performance of the SPARTH-processor is due to concurrent processing of multiple operands. An example of this approach is the implementation of SPARTH- processor within a basic fine-grained SIMD architecture oriented at solving problems containing many vector and matrix operations [23]. A number of new parallel algorithms was developed for solving problems of linear algebra. Comparison with known dedicated programming systems for high-precision computations in sequential computers shows that the SPARTH-processor ensures similar accuracy of results. Moreover, this accuracy is achieved in this case simultaneously for numerous data sets in corresponding processing elements of a massively parallel system.


In 1960, Leonid Kantorovich proposed a conception of attached units. The analysis of quantities and operations of Kantorovich's large-block programming system enables one to define some typical forms of processing, and to formulate the requirements to various specialized devices for concurrent execution of massive operations. In the early 60s at the Institute of Mathematics (Novosibirsk) a project had been developed under Kantorovich's direction of an attached unit called Arithmetic Machine (AM) [24] intended primarily for speeding up the solution of problems of linear algebra and linear programming. Accordingly, vector operations were emphasized in its design. The main principles used in the AM computer were as follows: 1) Exhaustive use of the number flow obtainable from the main memory of the host computer by direct access; 2) Organizing of a continuous number flow with simultaneous processing in a special high-speed arithmetic unit; 3) Use of special features of data (numeric vectors of large dimensions) and those of the basic operators (the main one being the inner product of vectors) in order to get very high processing speed. In the arithmetic unit of the AM, a four-stage pipeline was implemented with four levels of buffer registers [25]. To co- ordinate the functioning of all the pipeline stages, it was necessary to ensure a working speed of the accumulator considerably exceeding the abilities of logic elements available at that time. Thus, a novel powerful multiple-input carry-save adder was developed, which made possible processing of six digits of the multiplier at each cycle, ensuring the necessary speed [26]. A pilot AM computer has been built and was operating at the Computing Center of the Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk. This computer was one of the first pipeline processors, and thus a prototype of modern vector supercomputers.
In 1962, Edward Yevreinov suggested the concept of a Universal parallel Computing System with programmable structure (UCS) [27]. The main principles of UCSs were: the basic element of UCS is a general purpose computer (Elementary Machine, EM); the UCS has an homogeneous structure, that is, it consists of identical, equally connected EMs; the number of EMs in the system can be changed; the instruction set, memory size and word length of an EM can also be changed. It was also proposed to distinguish the UCSs: according to their topology: one-, two-, and multi- dimensional; according to the type of exchange between EMs: parallel, sequential, and parallel-sequential; according to the spatial arrangement of EMs: concentrated and distributed. In the Yevreinov's concept two levels of organization of parallel computing systems were considered: the macrostructural, which has just been briefly described, and the microstructural, concerning the inner structure of elementary machines, where an homogeneous approach was again proposed, based on Homogeneous Computing Media (see below). Several projects of homogeneous parallel computing systems have been undertaken in Russia in the late 60s - early 70s, under the direction of E.Yevreinov, namely, Minsk-222, Summa, Minimax.
At the end of 70s, Anatoly Kaliaev in Taganrog proposed the conception of multiprocessor systems with programmable architecture. In these systems the interconnection between the processors is accomplished by programming of special commutation structures which can be reconstructed in the course of system operation. In accordance with Kaliaev's conception, the node processors of parallel system have as well a programmable structure and can be configured for execution of large operators (elementary functions, matrix computations, differentiation, FFT, etc.). These ideas were used in Taganrog Research Institute of Multiprocessor Computing Systems for implementation of a number of experimental, as well as industrial general-purpose and problem- oriented parallel computers. The foundations of the theory of programmable architecture systems were formulated in [28,29]. One of the intersting developments of the ideas just described was the research of neurolike networks for adaptive robot control [30].
In the middle of 70s, in the Moscow Institute of Control Problems, under the direction of Ivery Prangishvili and Sergey Vilenkin, a high-performance SIMD system called PS-2000 (Parallel System 2000) has been designed [31]. This system could be extended from 8 up to 64 PEs (in eight-PE blocks). Each PE had a local memory of 16k 24-bit words and a 24-bit ALU. Each PE was connected with two nearest neighbours and could communicate with them independently from the other PEs. Besides, all the PEs were connected into a ring network; at any moment, only one PE could transfer data into the ring bus while an arbitrary number of specified PEs could receive data from the bus. These features, together with the priority chain and the activity control made the PS-2000 an associative processor capable of efficient solving of various non-numerical problems. The serial production of PS-2000 was organized in early 80s at the Severodonetsk Computer Plant (Ukraine). The experience in solving on the PS-2000 of different problems of geophysics, nuclear physics, aerodynamics, etc. demonstrated a gain of 1 or 2 orders in performance, against the general-purpose computers of that times.
In the end of 80s the "Siberia" project was developed at the Computing Center of SD RAS [32]. This project carried out under the direction of Nikolay Mirenkov was one of the first working high-performance systems of heterogeneous architecture. The system was built from completed large modules (on-the shelf computers). The design of such systems was especially important in Russia at that time when Soviet research laboratories, universities and enterprises had no adequate high-performance computers. The "Siberia" system consisted of modules assembled into a single installation by the principle of extensibility. The modules were grouped into several subsystems. The central part was a multimachine subsystem including three Soviet ES-1066 (IBM-370 compatible) mainframes. In addition to its main function of general-purpose data processing, this subsystem acted as a host computer for vector-pipeline, vector-parallel, and associative subsystems. The vector-pipeline subsystem was a set of Bulgarian processors ES-2706 (AP-190L compatible). This subsystem enabled pipelined, macro-pipelined and parallel data processing. The vector-parallel subsystem consisted of Russian PS computers (see above). The associative subsystem was a Staran-like computer which enabled the use of various operations on vertical bit-slices. Several novel programming tools had been designed for the "Siberia" system, aimed to the echievement of maximum parallelism.
The combined architecture [33] is a cooperation of a highly parallel host computer with a set of specialized processors. In this architecture, solving of any problem is considered as interaction of several processes, so that execution of each process is delegated to a specialized subsystem, most efficient in implementation of this process. The subsystems are controlled in such a way that their balanced operation might be ensured, and special complementing features of subsystems might be best exploited. For each subsystem a structure is chosen which best corresponds to the function it should perform. In the combined architecture, the main working load of the processing is delegated to the coprocessors. Hence, extremely high demands should be made to the performance of each coprocessor. It means that special care is needed in selection of the structures of coprocessors. The novelty of this approach is that the specific type, or "technology", of processing necessary for efficient execution of the most labor-intensive procedures involved in the implementation of a problem is used as a criterion for the selection of appropria- te hardware architecture. As a rule, similar technologies are encountered as well in solving problems of other classes. In [34], a classification of processing styles is suggested providing for a reasonable mapping Processing Type - Hardware Module. This classification allowed to assume that the variety of "technologies" involved in machine realization of a broad range of applications is not too large. The conception of Combined architectures provides for design of a family of efficient concentrated heterogeneous systems which, in contrast to the existing distributed heterogeneous systems does not need for high-bandwidth communication networks, and does not suffer from the delays arising in these networks at the data transfer.


This important concept was introduced in 1962 by Edward Yevreinov [35]. The homogeneous computing medium (HCM) is a logical network consisting of identical and identically interconnected cells. Usually square cells are considered, each connected with its four nearest neighbours. The square form of the element is essential from the viewpoint of complete utilization of the chip area, though the cells can also be triangles or hexagons. The main idea of computing media is embedding of arbitrary automata into a planar homogeneous cellular structure. The cell should be a universal one, i.e. it should be configurable to the implementation of each elementary logical function from some complete basis (for instance, {AND, OR, NOT}), the memory element function, and interconnection functions ensuring construction of arbitrary graphs from accordingly configured chains of cells. The main properties of the HCM are homogeneity, local interaction, universality of the cells, possibility of setting each cell to implementation of any function from the chosen complete set. According to Yevreinov, the HCM should be manufactured in a single technological process, like some "computing tissue", getting the required "pattern" at the last stage of production, by means of appropriate configuring. It is clear now that, as early as the 60s, Yevreinov foresaw the trends of development of parallel computing systems and the potentialities of future VLSI. The early ideas of Yevreinov (as well as of Daniel Slotnick in the USA) by far anticipated the present state of computer science and outlined most of the fundamental problems of development of high-performance computing systems.
A specific approach to distributed (cellular) computations called parallel substitution algorithm (PSA) was suggested in [36]. It represents an abstract automata model providing for a concise mapping of distributed computational process into cellular arrays. In [37], the problems of interpretation of PSA by networks of automata have been presented in detail. The parallel substitution system deals with so-called cellular spaces, that is, sets of identical cells (automata). To each cell, at each moment (cycle), two values are related: the unique name of the cell, and the state of the cell, a variable essentially expressing the processed data. A finite set of cells forms a word, or a configuration. Each configiration runs through different states in binary alphabet. Data processing in this system is specified by listing the substitutions corresponding to the chosen algorithm. It has been proved that these systems are algorithmically complete. Based on the PSA theory, a variety of techniques were developed for designing algorithmic-oriented cellular VLSI and optical architectures [38].
The systolic arrays take a special place among the modern high-performance parallel data processing architectures. On the one hand, they present an outcome of the development of known ideas of Edward Yevreinov. On the other hand, in the systolic approach, the advanteges of these models have been successfully combined by H.T.Kung with the fruitful principle of pipelining the data streams. Each processing element of a systolic matrix is pumping through itself the data, while performing some prescribed fragments of an appropriate computational process. Thus, in some cases systolic processing could achieve theoretical limits of performance. An important research in the field of systolic processing has been made by Stanislav Sedukhin (Novosibirsk). He developed a formal method of synthesis and analysis of systolic algorithms and structures based on initial specification of the algorithm given as a system of linear recurrent equations [39]. This method allows for systematic synthesis of all equivalent systolic structures admissible for a VLSI implementation with certain constraints. This method was used as a basis for an interactive automated design system S4CAD [40]. Based on these method and system, a number of systolic structures for VLSI implementation were obtained, optimal for solving problems of linear algebra, digital signal processing, graph theory, etc. We would like to note here that up to the present the great potential possibilities of systolic devices are not sufficiently used in practice, because of difficulties in organizing appropriate powerful data streams. One approach to overcoming this problem is the combined architecture described above.
Most of the cellular automata models (including Yevreinov's HCM) are universal. They can realize arbitrary functions and algorithms, and the synthesis of necessary logical structures proceeds using classical automata theory techniques. Unfortunately, most specific functions will incur time and hardware redundancy when implemented in this way. Specialized homogeneous structures, which immediately map algorithms into circuits, represent an alternative to the universal ones. In these structures, the given algorithm is simulated by signal propagation through a specialized logical net. A classical example of such structure is the content-addressed, or associative memory with its special basic operation of "equality search". Other specialized structures realizing other basic operations hawe emerged as well. In 1971 Yakov Fet in Novosibirsk proposed a specialized cellular array, called a-structure, with basic operation of "extremum search" [41]. Later on, numerous arrays have been designed implementing various basic operations (threshold searches, nearest neighbour searches, component-wise comparison, compression, etc.). Arrays of this type have been called Distributed Functional structures (DF-structures) [42]. An important feature of the DF-structures is their multifunctionality. Thus, an a-structure can be efficiently used not only for extremum selection, but also as an associative memory, a PLA, an interconnection network, etc. The conception of DF-structures allows for design of efficient parallel accelerators for diverse computer architectures. Indeed, the modern technology allows to implement distributed functional arrays of sufficient size, which can become a new type of VLSI product, cellular microprocessors.


Due to restricted size of the paper we needed to limit our overview to short summaries of the above topics. There are however other Russian works in the field of parallel computing which we would like also distinguish. The examples of such works are the investigations in parallel asynchronous computing processes made by Vadim Kotov and Alexander Narin'yani in the late 60s [43], the research on networks of automata by Arkady Makarevski [44], the works of Victor Malyshkin in methods of program linearization for their efficient parallel execution [45], the project MARS carried out at the Novosibirsk Computing Center in the middle of 80s by Vadim Kotov and his colleagues [6], the work by Vladimir Torgashov et al. on the design of recursive computing systems with dynamically changing structure [46], and many others.

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