13. Running in Parallel

If you are running a simulation on a computer with multiple cores, multiple sockets, or multiple nodes (i.e., a cluster), you can benefit from the fact that OpenMC is able to use all available hardware resources if configured correctly. OpenMC is capable of using both distributed-memory (MPI) and shared-memory (OpenMP) parallelism. If you are on a single-socket workstation or a laptop, using shared-memory parallelism is likely sufficient. On a multi-socket node, cluster, or supercomputer, chances are you will need to use both distributed-memory (across nodes) and shared-memory (within a single node) parallelism.

13.1. Shared-Memory Parallelism (OpenMP)

When using OpenMP, multiple threads will be launched and each is capable of simulating a particle independently of all other threads. The primary benefit of using OpenMP within a node is that it requires very little extra memory per thread. OpenMP can be turned on or off at configure-time; by default it is turned on. The only requirement is that the C++ compiler you use must support the OpenMP 3.1 or higher standard. Most recent compilers do support the use of OpenMP.

To specify the number of threads at run-time, you can use the threads argument to openmc.run():


If you’re running openmc directly from the command line, you can use the -s or --threads command-line argument. Alternatively, you can use the OMP_NUM_THREADS environment variable. If you do not specify the number of threads, the OpenMP library will try to determine how many hardware threads are available on your system and use that many threads.

In general, it is recommended to use as many OpenMP threads as you have hardware threads on your system. Notably, on a system with Intel hyperthreading, the hyperthreads should be used and can be expected to provide a 10–30% performance improvement over not using hyperthreads.

13.2. Distributed-Memory Parallelism (MPI)

MPI defines a library specification for message-passing between processes. There are two major implementations of MPI, OpenMPI and MPICH. Both implementations are known to work with OpenMC; there is no obvious reason to prefer one over the other. Building OpenMC with support for MPI requires that you have one of these implementations installed on your system. For instructions on obtaining MPI, see Prerequisites. Once you have an MPI implementation installed, compile OpenMC following Specifying the Build Type.

To run a simulation using MPI, openmc needs to be called using the mpiexec wrapper. For example, to run OpenMC using 32 processes:

mpiexec -n 32 openmc

The same thing can be achieved from the Python API by supplying the mpi_args argument to openmc.run():

openmc.run(mpi_args=['mpiexec', '-n', '32'])

13.3. Maximizing Performance

There are a number of things you can do to ensure that you obtain optimal performance on a machine when running in parallel:

  • Use OpenMP within each NUMA node. Some large server processors have so many cores that the last level cache is split to reduce memory latency. For example, the Intel Xeon Haswell-EP architecture uses a snoop mode called cluster on die where the L3 cache is split in half. Thus, in general, you should use one MPI process per socket (and OpenMP within each socket), but for these large processors, you will want to go one step further and use one process per NUMA node. The Xeon Phi Knights Landing architecture uses a similar concept called sub NUMA clustering.

  • Use a sufficiently large number of particles per generation. Between fission generations, a number of synchronization tasks take place. If the number of particles per generation is too low and you are using many processes/threads, the synchronization time may become non-negligible.

  • Use hardware threading if available.

  • Use process binding. When running with MPI, you should ensure that processes are bound to a specific hardware region. This can be set using the -bind-to (MPICH) or --bind-to (OpenMPI) option to mpiexec.

  • Turn off generation of tallies.out. For large simulations with millions of tally bins or more, generating this ASCII file might consume considerable time. You can turn off generation of tallies.out via the Settings.output attribute:

    settings = openmc.Settings()
    settings.output = {'tallies': False}