HPCC – Twenty Years and Counting

By Michael Feldman

March 3, 2006

On March 28th through March 30th, the 2006 High Performance Computing and Communication (HPPC) Conference will celebrate its twentieth year. The event will take place at the Hyatt Regency Newport, located on Goat Island in Newport, Rhode Island. As one of the more unique high performance computing conferences in the world, HPCC gathers a small but elite group of industry and government professionals to discuss the latest developments and trends in the HPC and computer security communities. This year's theme will be “Mainstream Supercomputing: The Convergence of HPC and Grid Computing.”

John Miguel, the founding organizer of HPCC and President of the National HPCC Council, is looking forward to this year's conference as he has for the past two decades. The conference's longevity is a result of its unique atmosphere and the consistent nurturing by Miguel and the HPCC Council Board members.

Hotel Awesome, Speakers Outstanding, Chocolate Fondue … Priceless

To many, the HPCC event is more like a family gathering than a hi-tech conference. Attendees return year after year to participate in this boutique HPC experience. Retired for the past 15 years, Miguel organizes the event for the enjoyment of bringing together the high performance computing community in this intimate setting in Newport.

Miguel recalls an evaluation from a past conference that says it all: “The hotel awesome, the speakers outstanding, the chocolate fondue priceless.”

Miguel's daughter, Susan, has been involved in the event since 1989 and now handles the conference's logistics at the request of the Council's Board. The final report of the Navy Laboratories Supercomputer Committee entitled “Supercomputing in the 90's: A Navy Plan”, was Susan's Master's thesis in professional writing at the University of Massachusetts. To the relief of the committee, two years of committee meeting minutes, notes and diagrams were converted into a professionally edited and written document by Susan in time to meet the deadline for Admiral Tobin, the Navy's Information Resources Management (IRM) Director. Speaking of the plan at the conference, Adm. Tobin said, “The Navy is a family in the true sense of the word.”

The HPCC conference was born with the advent of supercomputers in the 1980s. John Miguel worked for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI just at the time the Navy, as well as the other DoD services, were becoming interested in this new technology. At the same time, John Miguel's role as the president of the Federal Information Processing Council of New England provided a platform to launch a two-day supercomputing conference. He invited the supercomputer manufacturers of the day and the conference was well attended by the DoD services and other government agencies. The purpose of this one-time event was to provide background education and training in supercomputers and to help with the procurement of a supercomputer for the Center. The conference was a resounding success; the Center got a supercomputer two years later and the conference took on a life of its own. Here we are twenty years later.

“I paid for the first conference with my American express card,” admitted Miguel. “I told them I'll up-front it and whatever happens, happens. I thought we should make enough to cover the whole thing. And luckily, enough people came!”

Fortunately, Miguel no longer needs to run up his charge card to put on the conference. It has become popular enough within the HPC community, especially in the federal government, to attract a loyal following. This year — maybe as a sign that high performance computing really is spreading into new areas — 80 percent of the people who have registered for the conference are first-timers.

John Miguel describes the conference as unique in both its scope and atmosphere. It is neither a trade-show nor a highly technically oriented event. The conference is a platform for high-level discussions about the state of high performance computing — the technology, the current issues, and what the future will bring. Because of this, it appeals to those in industry and government who need to know how HPC is being applied both commercially and in the public sector.

More importantly, the conference provides an opportunity for attendees to network with their counterparts in other companies and government organizations. Miguel says that with a relatively small number of attendees — usually around 200 or so — there's a definite interplay between people. All the sessions are plenary so everyone stays together for two and half days.

“It goes on because of the networking,” said Miguel. “It's like a who's who of computing in industry and government. They all come and talk about where they see high performance computing going and what's needed.”

The conference has changed over the years. There's been less emphasis on vendors and more on the broad issues and topics relevant to the HPC community. Within the past few years, the scope of the conference has broadened somewhat to include the areas of computer security, information assurance and homeland security — all related to high performance computing.

“One year, we had Professor Whitehead from Harvard, who is the country's leading expert on biological warfare,” recalled Miguel. “He talked about these deadly biological agents for almost an hour. He had everybody spellbound — and petrified! You could hear a pin drop. It was a tremendous talk.”

From the Front Lines of HPC

Miguel says this year's conference is going to be especially interesting because they've gathered a particularly eclectic mix of speakers to present their HPC applications and research work.

Stephen Pawlowski, Intel Senior Fellow and the Digital Enterprise Group chief technology officer and general manager for DEG Architecture and Planning, will introduce the conference with his presentation: “HPC – Into the Mainstream.”

Thomas Sterling, professor of Computer Science at Louisiana State and “father” of Beowulf clusters, will give a presentation that addresses the issues related to widespread adoption of multi-core technology.

Tom Lange, the IT Director at Procter and Gamble, will speak about how HPC is being used to design and develop consumer package goods. His talk is entitled “The Aerodynamics of Pringles.”

Jay Boris, Chief Scientist and Director of the Computational Physics and Fluid Dynamics Lab within the Naval Research Lab, is going to speak about how urban aerodynamics can be applied to help first responders deal with a biological or chemical terrorist attack. Using computational fluid dynamics, he has modeled the airflow characteristics of some major American cities.

Dr. Goh, the Chief Technology Officer of SGI, will introduce the second day of the conference and talk about SGI's vision for next-generation supercomputer systems.

Tony Pressley from the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) will be presenting an intrusion monitoring and protection system. If successful, this system will be adopted throughout the DoD.

Rick Sawyer from American Power Conversion (APC) will present a tutorial about datacenter design as it relates to power and cooling requirements. APC uses computational fluid dynamics to measure heat generation and airflow in the datacenter, which can then be used to optimize room and equipment layout for a facility.

Doug Ball, Chief Engineer for Enabling Technology from Boeing will be discussing how HPC is used in aircraft design.

Mike Bernhardt will moderate what promises to be an interesting panel: “Clusters, Grids, Supercomputing or Applications: What Will Drive Supercomputing in the Future.” Douglass Post from the DoD HPC Modernization Program, John Medeiros from the COLSA/Army R&D Command, Miron Livny, from the University of Wisconsin, Walter Brooks at NASA Ames and Thomas Sterling from Caltech, will all be participating on this panel. The diversity of views represented by this group promises a lively discussion.

The other panel, moderated by Bob Feldman, and entitled “American HPC Enterprise Architecture in the Context of Everything Else: What does the Real World Need?” will discuss the high performance computing needs of commercial and government users in the real world. The panel will include Karen Evans from OMB, EOP, Anthony Pressley from the ARL, Jose Munoz from the NSF, Thomas Zacharia from Oak Ridge National Lab, Dr. Sangtae Kim from the NSF and Purdue University, and Capt. Geoffrey Abbott from the Department of Homeland Security.

One of the issues this panel will address is the disconnect between vendors and users. Miguel explains the problem with the following analogy: “In playing bridge, there's a problem that says 'you fall in love with your hand,' that is, you love your hand so much you want to play it no matter what — so you overbid it.” He believes that computer vendors sometimes become so enamored of their own technology that they lose sight of what end users really need.

Just a Hobby

Miguel, himself, seems to have a genuine understanding of users' needs. Every year, he manages to organize a unique event that never fails to please the attendees. Recently, he has been offered to move HPCC to the Washington DC area, where he could more than double the conference size. But Miguel prefers the size of the event and the intimacy of the setting as it is now, and believes most of the conference-goers would agree. So he intends to keep the event in Newport as long as people keep coming.

“It sort of became my hobby,” concluded Miguel. “As long as it doesn't interfere with my golf it's OK.”

—–

The High Performance Computing and Communications Conference takes place in Newport, Rhode Island, from March 28th through March 30th. For more information, visit www.hpcc-usa.org.

HPCwire and GRIDtoday will be covering the event live from Newport. To follow all the conference news, visit http://newportwire.hpcwire.com/.

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