Online / 6 & 7 February 2021

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Guix Workflow Language

Extending a reproducible software deployment system for HPC


There are dozens of domain specific languages that allow scientists to describe complex workflows. From the humble generic GNU Make to large scale platforms like Apache Airflow you would think that there is something there to satisfy everyone. All of these systems have one thing in common: they have a strong focus on partitioning large computations and scheduling work units, but when it comes to managing the software environments that are the context of each of the planned computations, they are often remarkably shy to offer opinionated solutions.

Software management and deployment often seems like an afterthought. Workflow language designers increasingly seem to be following the devops trend of resorting to opaque application bundles to satisfy application and library needs. While this strategy has some advantages it also comes with downsides that rarely seem to be weighed carefully.

We present the Guix Workflow Language --- not as a solution to the question of software deployment in HPC workflows, but as an instance of convergent evolution: growing a workflow language out of a generic reproducible software management and deployment system (GNU Guix) instead of sprucing up a workflow language with software deployment features. We hope to encourage a discussion about the current state of workflow languages in HPC: when it comes to software and distributed computations, are we approaching the peak or do we circle a local maximum?

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Photo of Ricardo Wurmus Ricardo Wurmus

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