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July 02, 2012
How can you resist the allure of beautiful, romantic Southern Italy? The food, the wine, the music, the people, the lifestyle, the art, the history, the venue, the sea -- all of this plus high performance computing! What an assignment. Covering an HPC conference in picturesque Cetraro, Italy.
Celebrating it's 20th anniversary, the Cetraro Conference takes place every two years. Some of the biggest names in HPC converge on this sleepy, seaside town at the charming Gran Hotel San Michele for one of the most unique, invitation-only events in our industry.
This is a gathering of industry luminaries who are easily recognized by their first names: Jack, Paul, Wolfgang, Ian, Karl, Bill, Steve, Thomas, Lucio, Craig, Charlie, Satoshi and Tron, just to name a few**. Not surprisingly, after 20 years, the alumni literally reads like the who's-who list of HPC.
Additionally, alongside the 100 or so invitees you'll also find distinguished, hands-on managers as well as accomplished students, all on their way to luminary-ness. Ultimately, it's the deep, very interactive conference program that draws everyone here, but there are also other important underlying factors in play that makes this conference so very unique.
Due to the open nature of this conference, all materials from the event, including presentation slides, can be found at the event site http://www.hpcc.unical.it/hpc2012/announcement.htm. As you would expect from this group, the program was excellent.
Five days and over 45 sessions, presentations and panels, the event touched on everything HPC: current and future technologies, HPC in the cloud and the path to exascale. From Jack Dongarra's report on tracking the TOP500 for the past 20 years -- if trends are any indication of future performance, by 2016 ALL systems on the TOP500 will be petascale class -- to a full track on "big data," plus Weiwu Hu illustrating China's Godson microprocessor for HPC and the country's roadmap to exascale.
All five days of the conference started with a morning presentation, lunch at 1PM on the private beach, a four-hour mid-day break for networking, then more sessions from 6 to 8PM. Everyone dined together, with entertainment following dinner. Since this was an invitation-only event, the only cost to the attendees was their hotel accommodations.
Before arriving, with a little net research, I envisioned being at the cliff-side palace, the Gran Hotel San Michele. Sitting high above the deep blue Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria, this isolated property is blessed with a golf course that weaves through the mountainside vineyards, bougainvillea gardens, and dinning and resting terraces with endless views of the Italian coastline; a swimming deck with so few people that it feels like it's all yours; a private cliffside elevator descending to your private beach... now this is a conference destination! Needless to say, it's beautiful, but the real gem is the myriad of venues for creative conversation and discussions.
Clear blue skies, postcard perfect days make you think that you should be outside enjoying the beauty of Southern Italy. Until you actually walk outside and the heat hits you! Every day was 95-104 degrees (35-40C)
As much as you want to hit the private beach or play some golf on the vineyard-surrounded golf course, you can only bear so much of the heat. Everyone is in shorts, a polo or tee shirt and sandals, and everyone spends a great deal of time either in the water, in the shade or indoors, adding further to the very relaxed, disarming atmosphere and tempo.
Lucio Grandinetti, the founder of this conference has designed it to be very open and interactive, it's kept small intentionally for this reason. Interrupting speakers during their presentations for direct questioning is not uncommon, it's actually welcomed. In addition to the open format of the conference, throughout the day and in the evening, there's a great deal of time for interacting and debating with colleagues.
When you add together the thought-provoking program, the relaxing venue, the very casual atmosphere, the calming effect of the heat, the openness of the format and that everyone is on the same date calendar, it all naturally fosters open, honest dialog. Rank and agenda seem to vanish in favor of great, casual conversation. The luminaries are easily approached and welcome it as much. It's not unusual to see Paul Messina sitting with a student discussing either the conference or their goals in HPC. This all naturally leads to the mentoring...
Because of the size of this event, it's easy to do a complete survey of the room and attendees and deduce the international make-up of the event. Twenty-two countries are represented from all of the major regions of the world.
What is also apparent is the generational mix. You have the gray hairs, aspiring middle managers and scientists, as well as students. Again, everything about this event fosters openness, opportunity and desire to share -- not just bleeding edge technology, but how you personally fit in HPC and the roadmap to the future. This is the part that makes this event extra unique, the dialog between luminaries and luminaries mentoring the next generation.
By in large, this is the hit that scores all the other runners on base. The masters handing the scrolls to the younger warriors, inspired by a provocative gathering of luminaries, at a gorgeous place that draws on your creativity, sitting around in shorts and flip-flops and of course, it's in beautiful Southern Italy!
When all things are considered, this is a very special, rewarding event. If you're lucky enough to have an opportunity to attend The Cetraro Conference, jump at it!
** Jack (Dongarra), Paul (Messina), Wolfgang (Gentzsch), Ian (Foster), Karl (Kesselman), Bill (Blake), Steve (Wallach), Thomas (Lippert), Lucio (Grandinetti), Craig (Lee), Charlie (Catlett), Satoshi (Matsuoka) and Tron (Thomas Sterling).
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