First, it is important to recognize how MPICH and Open-MPI are different, i.e. that they are designed to meet different needs. MPICH is supposed to be high-quality reference implementation of the latest MPI standard and the basis for derivative implementations to meet special purpose needs. Open-MPI targets the common case, both in terms of usage and network conduits.

Support for Network Technology

Open-MPI documents their network support here. MPICH lists this information in the README distributed with each version (e.g. this is for 3.2.1). Note that because both Open-MPI and MPICH support the OFI (aka libfabric) networking layer, they support many of the same networks. However, libfabric is a multi-faceted API, so not every network may be supported the same in both (e.g. MPICH has an OFI-based IBM Blue Gene/Q implementation, but I’m not aware of equivalent support in Open-MPI). However, the OFI-based implementations of both MPICH and Open-MPI are working on shared-memory, Ethernet (via TCP/IP), Mellanox InfiniBand, Intel Omni Path, and likely other networks. Open-MPI also supports both of these networks and others natively (i.e. without OFI in the middle).

In the past, a common complaint about MPICH is that it does not support InfiniBand, whereas Open-MPI does. However, MVAPICH and Intel MPI (among others) – both of which are MPICH derivatives – support InfiniBand, so if one is willing to define MPICH as “MPICH and its derivatives”, then MPICH has extremely broad network support, including both InfiniBand and proprietary interconnects like Cray Seastar, Gemini and Aries as well as IBM Blue Gene (/L, /P and /Q). Open-MPI also supports the Cray Gemini interconnect, but its usage is not supported by Cray. More recently, MPICH supported InfiniBand through a netmod (now deprecated), but MVAPICH2 has extensive optimizations that make it the preferred implementation in nearly all cases.

Feature Support from the Latest MPI Standard

An orthogonal axis to hardware/platform support is coverage of the MPI standard. Here MPICH is usually far and away superior. MPICH has been the first implementation of every single release of the MPI standard, from MPI-1 to MPI-3. Open-MPI has only recently supported MPI-3 and I find that some MPI-3 features are buggy on some platforms (MPICH is not bug-free, of course, but bugs in MPI-3 features have been far less common).

Historically, Open-MPI has not had holistic support for MPI_THREAD_MULTIPLE, which is critical for some applications. It might be supported on some platforms but cannot generally be assumed to work. On the other hand, MPICH has had holistic support for MPI_THREAD_MULTIPLE for many years, although the implementation is not always high-performance (see “Locking Aspects in Multithreaded MPI Implementations” for one analysis).

Another feature that was broken in Open-MPI 1.x was one-sided communication, aka RMA. This has more recently been fixed and I find, as a very heavy user of these features, that they are generally working well in Open-MPI 3.x (see e.g. the ARMCI-MPI test matrix in Travis CI for results showing RMA working with both implementations, at least in shared-memory. I’ve seen similar positive results on Intel Omni Path, but have not tested Mellanox InfiniBand.

Process Management

One area where Open-MPI used to be significantly superior was the process manager. The old MPICH launch (MPD) was brittle and hard to use. Fortunately, it has been deprecated for many years (see the MPICH FAQ entry for details). Thus, criticism of MPICH because of MPD is spurious.

The Hydra process manager is quite good and has the similar usability and feature set as ORTE (in Open-MPI), e.g. both support HWLOC for control over process topology. There are reports of Open-MPI process launching being faster than MPICH-derivatives for larger jobs (1000+ processes), but since I don’t have firsthand experience here, I am not comfortable stating any conclusions. Such performance issues are usually network-specific and sometimes even machine-specific.

I have found Open-MPI to be more robust when using MacOS with a VPN, i.e. MPICH may hang in startup due to hostname resolution issues. As this is a bug, this issue may disappear in the future.

Binary Portability

While both MPICH and Open-MPI are open-source software that can be compiled on a wide range of platforms, the portability of MPI libraries in binary form, or programs linked against them, is often important.

MPICH and many of its derivatives support ABI compatibility (website), which means that the binary interface to the library is constant and therefore one can compile with mpi.h from one implementation and then run with another. This is true even across multiple versions of the libraries. For example, I frequently compile Intel MPI but LD_PRELOAD a development version of MPICH at runtime. One of the big advantages of ABI compatibility is that ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) can release binaries compiled against only one member of the MPICH family.

ABI is not the only type of binary compatibility. The scenarios described above assume that users employ the same version of the MPI launcher (usually mpirun or mpiexec, along with its compute-node daemons) and MPI library everywhere. This is not necessarily the case for containers.

While Open-MPI does not promise ABI compatibility, they have invested heavily in supporting containers (docs, slides). This requires great care in maintaining compatibility across different versions of the MPI launcher, launcher daemons, and MPI Library, because a user may launch jobs using a newer version of the MPI launcher than the launcher daemons in the container support. Without careful attention to launcher interface stability, container jobs will not launch unless the versions of each component of the launcher are compatible. This is not an insurmountable problem:

The workaround used by the Docker world, for example, is to containerize the infrastructure along with the application. In other words, you include the MPI daemon in the container with the application itself, and then require that all containers (mpiexec included) be of the same version. This avoids the issue as you no longer have cross-version infrastructure operations.

I acknowledge Ralph Castain of the Open-MPI team for explaining the container issues to me. The immediately preceding quote is his.

Platform-Specific Comparison

Here is my evaluation on a platform-by-platform basis:

  • Mac OS: both Open-MPI and MPICH should work just fine. To get the latest features of the MPI-3 standard, you need to use a recent version of Open-MPI, which is available from Homebrew. There is no reason to think about MPI performance if you’re running on a Mac laptop.

  • Linux with shared-memory: both Open-MPI and MPICH should work just fine. If you want a release version that supports all of MPI-3 or MPI_THREAD_MULTIPLE, you probably need MPICH though, unless you build Open-MPI yourself, because e.g. Ubuntu 16.04 only provides the ancient version 1.10 via APT. I am not aware of any significant performance differences between the two implementations. Both support single-copy optimizations if the OS allows them.

  • Linux with Mellanox InfiniBand: use Open-MPI or MVAPICH2. If you want a release version that supports all of MPI-3 or MPI_THREAD_MULTIPLE, you likely need MVAPICH2 though. I find that MVAPICH2 performs very well but haven’t done a direct comparison with OpenMPI on InfiniBand, in part because the features for which performance matters most to me (RMA aka one-sided) have been broken in Open-MPI in the past.

  • Linux with Intel Omni Path (or its predecessor, True Scale): I have use MVAPICH2, Intel MPI, MPICH and Open-MPI on such systems, and all are working. Intel MPI tends to the most optimized while Open-MPI delivered the best performance of the open-source implementations because they have a well-optimized PSM2-based back-end. I have some notes on GitHub on how to build different open-source implementations, but such information goes stale rather quickly.

  • Cray or IBM supercomputers: MPI comes installed on these machines automatically and it is based upon MPICH in both cases. There have been demonstrations of MPICH on Cray XC40 (here) using OFI, Intel MPI on Cray XC40 (here) using OFI, MPICH on Blue Gene/Q using OFI (here), and Open-MPI on Cray XC40 using both OFI and uGNI (here), but none of these are vendor supported.

  • Windows: I see no point in running MPI on Windows except through a Linux VM, but both Microsoft MPI and Intel MPI support Windows and are MPICH-based. I have heard reports of successful builds of MPICH or Open-MPI using Windows Subsystem for Linux but have no personal experience.


In full disclosure, I currently work for Intel in a research/pathfinding capacity (i.e. I do not work on any Intel software products) and formerly worked for Argonne National Lab for five years, where I collaborated extensively with the MPICH team.

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