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Kent Winchell

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Kent Winchell

Kent Winchell
Office of the CTO, Cray

Change is in the air for 2014, and one change will affect two notable positions in two notable companies. Formerly the long-standing CTO of IBM’s Deep Computing group, Kent Winchell has migrated to Cray, where he will bring his experience to bear in the Office of the CTO. What cross influence will he bring with him from Big Blue as he moves into one of Supercomputing’s darling companies? We caught up with Winchell to ask him just that and more.

HPCwire: Kent, you’d been the CTO of IBM’s Deep Computing for just about five years, and are now moving into a position in the Office of the CTO at Cray, another company that is iconic, but in a very different way than IBM is. Aside from your suitcase, is there anything in particular that you are bringing over to Cray from IBM? What lessons from your IBM experience do you intend to bring to bear as you start this new role?

Kent Winchell: The thing that I really think of is that IBM is so focused on sort of, understanding the business of their customers, and Cray has this really deep engineering heratige of being able to build almost anything. I think as HPC has moved out, it’s not really limited to just a small subset of users. So what I would like to do is really take a hard look at the customers and say “what’s the real business value of this piece of HPC or analytic technology?” How do you add to what this customer is doing. How do you find a way to really improve their business through HPC versus maybe just building the neatest thing you can build – what’s the real business value that you can bring out of it.

HPCwire: So it’s clear that convergence of modeling and analytics and reducing the complexity of utilization of HPC systems is an important part of your focus at Cray. What sort of things can we expect to see coming out of Cray in support of this effort? And what impacts are you expecting from these efforts?

Kent Winchell: So we’ve really got a three-legged strategy now that centers around compute, analyze, and store. That also aligns with my own personal passions because I’ve done a lot of work, say with the U.S. Weather Service, and they try really hard and spend a lot of computing cycles to predict weather and understand climate, but they have a whole untapped set of data there to say “what happened the day that our weather prediction was wrong? Could we build a closed-loop analytic model that looked at times we were wrong, fed back into our model, and now produce a better model?”

They know that they have that data, and they know what they want to do with it, but they don’t see how they can bring that together. If we can bring that together in a workflow that lets them actually take advantage of data in hand to improve weather predictions, I think that would be a great outcome.

HPCwire: What trends do you have your eye on for 2014, and how do they affect your thinking about the future of HPC?

Kent Winchell: I think this whole NVRAM SSD is really the exciting thing that’s out there. We’ve been very focused on the floating point part of the chip for a long time and getting that done, but more and more workflow and the ability to have data be persistent through a large system, the scale of the system that’s out there – I’m kind of really excited about what we’re going to be able to do with changes in the data architecture side of computing as opposed to being focused in on the Flops, and I think the non-volatile RAM SSDs are going to just bring about the potential for really dramatic changes for that.

HPCwire: On a more personal note – can you talk about your personal life? Your family, background, any hobbies?

Kent Winchell: I love being in the outdoors. Our children are not really following along in the HPC mindset. One of them is an artist, and the other would probably love to run a micro-brewery, so we can maybe figure out some way to factor HPC into that. Luckily I get to live here in the middle of the U.S., in Colorado, and really enjoy doing that. It helps clear the mind from living in the technology side of things, to thinking about how does technology really help the world out.

HPCwire: Final Question – is there anything about yourself that you can share that you think your colleagues would be surprised to learn?

Kent Winchell: I don’t have a tablet. I do have a smart phone, but I don’t have a tablet. I grew up in a small town of about 1,600 people. I’m still really kind of a Midwest small-town kid at heart. I love technology, but I kind of want to keep it from taking over my life.