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High Performance Visualization by E. Wes Bethel, Charles Hansen, Hank Childs

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Chapter 16
VisIt: An End-User Tool for
Visualizing and Analyzing Very Large
Data
Hank Childs
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Eric Brugger, Brad Whitlock
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Jeremy Meredith, Sean Ahern, David Pugmire
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Kathleen Biagas, Mark Miller, Cyrus Harrison
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Gunther H. Weber, Hari Krishnan
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Thomas Fogal, Allen Sanderson
University of Utah
Christoph Garth
Technische Universit¨at Kaiserslautern
E. Wes Bethel, David Camp, Oliver R¨ubel
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Marc Durant, Jean M. Favre, Paul Navr´atil
Tech-X Corporation, Swiss National Supercomputing Center, Texas Advanced
Computing Center
16.1 Introduction ...................................................... 358
16.2 Focal Points ...................................................... 359
16.2.1 Enable Data Understanding ............................. 359
16.2.2 Support for Large Data ................................. 360
16.2.3 Provide a Robust and Usable Product for End Users .. 360
357
358 High Performance Visualization
16.3 Design ............................................................ 360
16.3.1 Architecture ............................................. 361
16.3.2 Parallelism ............................................... 362
16.3.3 User Interface Concepts and Extensibility .............. 363
16.3.4 The Size and Breadth of VisIt .......................... 364
16.4 Successes ......................................................... 364
16.4.1 Scalability Successes ..................................... 364
16.4.2 A Repository for Large Data Algorithms ............... 365
16.4.3 Supercomputing Research Performed with VisIt ........ 366
16.4.4 User Successes ........................................... 366
16.5 Future Challenges ................................................ 368
16.6 Conclusion ........................................................ 368
References .......................................................... 369
VisIt is a popular open source tool for visualizing and analyzing data. It owes
its success to its foci of increasing data understanding, large data support, and
providing a robust and usable product, as well as its underlying design that fits
today’s supercomputing landscape. This chapter, which draws heavily from a
publication at the SciDAC Conference in 2011 by Childs et al. [2], describes
the VisIt project and its accomplishments.
16.1 Introduction
A dozen years ago, when the VisIt project started, a new high performance
computing environment was emerging. Ever increasing numbers of end users
were running simulations and generating large data. This rapidly growing
number of large data sets prevented visualization experts from being inti-
mately involved in the visualization process; it was necessary to put tools in
the end users’ hands. Almost all end users were sitting in front of high-end
desktop machines with powerful graphics cards. But their simulations were
being run on remote, parallel machines and generating data sets too large to
be transferred back to these desktops. Worse, these data sets were too large
to even process on their (serial) machines anyways. The types of visualiza-
tion and analysis users wanted to perform varied greatly; users needed many
techniques for understanding diverse types of data, with use cases ranging
from confirming that a simulation was running smoothly to communicating
the results of a simulation to a larger audience, to gaining insight via data
exploration.
VisIt was developed in response to these emerging needs. It was (and is)
an open source project for visualizing and analyzing extremely large data
sets. The project has evolved around three focal points: (1) enabling data
understanding, (2) scalable support for extremely large data, and (3) providing
a robust and usable product for end users.

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