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January 22, 2014

Remembering Hans Meuer

Tom Tabor

In the early years of the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC), when the event was topping out at 150 attendees, the beginning of each session commenced with Dr. Hans Meuer ringing a Salvation Army bell that was meant to bring us all together. The memory is a sweet one, but it is with great sadness that I’ve learned after a battle with cancer, my friend and colleague has left his community behind.

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Hans Meuer, Wolfgang Gentzsch, and HPCwire Publisher Tom Tabor at ISC’10 – read more

Hans played a preeminent role in uniting the high performance computing (HPC) community from regions far and wide. He was the proverbial father figure of high performance computing in Europe, the quintessential professor – graying beard, German accent, passion for science and discovery and most importantly the desire to use the technology around him to improve humankind’s quality of life.

For many of the industry’s forerunners, being on the bleeding edge of both technology and scientific research was all that was important, but Hans’ passion extended beyond that; he sought to bring together the great minds in Europe who could move high performance computing forward. And it was that same positivity and spirit that he brought to the TOP500 organization and the ISC events.

I met Hans at the first Supercomputing Conference in 1988. We established our friendship at the same time as we laid the foundation for what would become the linchpins of our community: HPCwire and Supercomputing in the United States, and ISC in Europe. This legacy will live on every time HPCers gather to share their vision for the future of high performance computing.

Back then, Hans was a professor in his early fifties and an evangelist for supercomputing. And this was well before he marked his claim to fame as one of the founders of the TOP500, which stands as a testament and testimony to Hans’ commitment and passion and speaks to how deep-rooted his involvement has been in the HPC community.

When Hans formed the International Supercomputing Conference he initially called it Supercomputing Europe. At one point he referenced it as the SC conference in Europe, but to his credit Hans viewed the SC organizers in the US as collaborators. Rather than creating confusion, he opted to call it the International Supercomputing Conference.

And while ISC and the TOP500 have become staples of HPC today, for Hans it was never about commercial success. He wanted to bring the community together and foster collaboration, and for many in the HPC spotlight today, the ties run even deeper. Hans was a mentor to Wolfgang Gentzsch – who has gone on to lead the HPC Cloud Experiment – teaching him computer science in graduate school. The scope of Hans’ lasting impact extends to his colleagues at the TOP500.

“Hans was a great force and had a profound influence on my career and life,” said Jack Dongarra, a co-founder of the TOP500, when we discussed the news of Hans’ passing. “He made a difference on how we look at our technology, both future and past. He was a leader in our field and will be sorely missed. Hans will continue to be an inspiration and his strong presence will be greatly missed. For me he was a mentor, colleague, and friend.”

Still, hardly a successful career is without controversy and Hans was no exception. Passionate about HPC and moving the community forward, Hans was somewhat of a verbose personality, which is always a formula for some controversy, particularly when it came to the directions in which to move the industry and community.

But my dearest memories of Hans will be of the early days of his phenomenal inner-circle dinners hosted in castles, and of him ringing the bell to signal the end of a break during ISC. It would just be so personal whenever Hans was bringing us together – it was as if we were his close friends and family. It meant we were getting together to reaffirm our commitment to HPC – not just gathering for a trade show.

It’s likely that without Hans much of what has become his legacy would have made its way to the surface one way or another, but his successes only go to show how essential his contributions are and will continue to be. Would there have been an event in Europe that would have become the preeminent event for HPC in Europe and the Middle East? Probably. A list of the fastest computers in the world? More than likely. But because of his desire for collaboration and bringing like minds and colleagues together, Hans accelerated this process. And he did it selflessly.