Supercomputing Conference Turns 20

By Michael Feldman

November 16, 2008

After more than a year of planning, the 20th annual Supercomputing conference (SC08) kicks off on Monday in Austin, Texas. SC08’s general chair, Patricia J. Teller, is a veteran of past SC conferences and is currently a professor at the University of Texas (UTEP) at El Paso. We got the opportunity to ask Professor Teller a little bit about her background, what went into planning this year’s event, and what we can look forward to this week.

HPCwire: First, can you tell us a little about your day job as a Professor with the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas at El Paso and any other activities you are currently involved in?

Patricia Teller: As a professor, I am involved in research, teaching and service. With respect to research, I am currently working with six Ph.D. students, a master’s student, two undergraduates, and a research specialist, as well as collaborators at New Mexico State University, IBM, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, University of Oregon, ParaTools, Inc., Sandia National Laboratories, and University of Delaware. Our present research foci are dynamic adaptation of operating systems and computer architectures; performance evaluation, modeling, and enhancements, in particular with regard to. I/O, checkpoint/restart, and multi-core architectures; parallel and distributed computing; workload characterization; and education. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in the systems areas, e.g., computer architecture, operating systems, and parallel and distributed computing. In addition, I serve on committees at the department, college and university levels; am UTEP’s representative to HiPCAT, High Performance Computing Across Texas, and the AHPCRC, the Army High Performance Computing Research Center; am a member of the program committees of other conferences; and serve on the TeraGrid Science Advisory Board, the IPlant EOT Advisory Board, and the SC Steering Committee.

HPCwire: It is apparent you have a deep interest in high performance computing and computer science, in general. What roles do you believe these technologies will play in our economy over the next 5 to 10 years?

Teller: As we all know, high performance computing has become a catalyst for advancing the state-of-the-art in science, engineering, and other disciplines. Such advances are critical to national and global interests, financial and scientific. For example, these advances will help provide accurate weather and climate forecasting, design new pharmaceuticals, and support advanced manufacturing design. Accordingly, computer science is being and will continue to be an important component of multi-disciplinary research and the industries that benefit from this research. At SC08, we will be focusing on two key areas — Biomedical Informatics and Energy. As an example of the breadth of research HPC can contribute to, our Energy Thrust will address everything from better use of existing energy resources to developing future energy sources such as fusion and biomass.

HPCwire: Can you point to a specific technology or trend in HPC that is changing the nature of supercomputing?

Teller: Multicore processors certainly is one of those technologies, and, as you will see, this is quite apparent in the SC08 Technical Program.

HPCwire: Turning to the conference: In the past you have been involved in SC as a member of the Steering Committee. What is it like being the program chair?

Teller: I have served the conference in many ways: on the Technical Papers Committee, the Tutorials Committee, the Technical Program Committee, and the Steering Committee, and as Student Volunteer Chair, Invited Speakers Chair, and Finance Chair — and maybe in other capacities too! Now, as Conference General Chair, I have a role that draws on these varied experiences, but also brings with it a lot of responsibility and effort. Being the General Chair, and having a great committee, once the vision is formed and conveyed, and the ball starts rolling, the chair’s role is to make sure it stays on course and to support the efforts of the committee members.

For me, this has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which would not have occurred if I were not nominated and elected by the SC Steering Committee, if the President of UTEP, Dr. Diana Natalicio, did not support my involvement, if my husband, Joe, did not support the many hours that I have spent in the planning process instead of doing other things, and if all the wonderful people on the SC08 committee did not commit and deliver. Working with the SC08 committee has been a joy and I look forward to experiencing, with them, the fruits of our efforts.

HPCwire: In what ways has the conference changed since you’ve been involved? What is your most memorable experience from SC years past?

Teller: The biggest change is the size, the magnitude! The SC08 20th Anniversary exhibit provides data on how the conference has grown, along with advances in the associated industry. I know folks will find it most interesting, as did I!

My most memorable experience… I will go with the first that came to mind: introducing Alvy Ray Smith, who was an invited speaker at Supercomputing ’96 and who I managed to secure for the conference. That was quite an experience for me since I was an assistant professor and still quite a newcomer to the SC Conference — speaking (even just an introduction) in front of all those people! And, now as General Chair I will do it again!

HPCwire: Were there any major challenges, setbacks or surprises in putting together this year’s conference?

Teller: The SC08 committee is awesome and the planning of the conference has gone rather smoothly. Our only big concern was the economic downturn and how it might affect attendance. I am happy to say that we will have more attendees than we projected in our budget! We also have sold out all the exhibit space in the Austin Convention Center, fitting in 339 exhibitors. Even under the current economic conditions, it’s clear that SC is the conference that can’t be missed.

HPCwire: What was your vision for this year’s conference? What can you tell us about this year’s theme?

Teller: My vision for this year’s conference was to make it an exciting, memorable, stellar, and welcoming conference. I wanted it to have an excellent Technical Program, application areas that were not well represented in past programs and that are of particular interest in the state of Texas, such as the Biomedical Informatics and Energy Thrusts I mentioned earlier. There also will be an exhibit that captures the past 20 years of the conference — this being the 20th anniversary of the conference, exploration of advances in music made possible by high performance computing, and continuation of the conference’s important outreach activities, i.e., the Broader Engagement Program, the Education Program, and the Cluster Challenge, which all were successful SC07 initiatives. And, very soon, my vision will become a reality!

An overriding theme for the conference is the 20th Anniversary. The star in the SC08 logo is evocative of both the state of Texas, the Lone Star State, and the SC Conference, which, as Jon Bashor wrote and as is noted on the SC08 website, “hosts longtime luminaries who established and built the conference and the next generation of stars who bring new ideas and perspectives to SC. The charging horses in the logo evoke Texas’ frontier heritage, as well as the ever-increasing “horsepower” of parallel computing systems and networks. The horses’ forward movement reflects the community’s constant push on the frontiers of high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis.”

HPCwire: What else is new on the agenda this year?

Teller: As always, the technical program focuses on high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis. However, this year, as I mentioned, we have introduced two Technology Thrusts, Biomedical Informatics and Energy, which are of particular interest in the state of Texas and, of course, the nation and the world. The idea of thrust areas is to showcase scientific and technological advances that have been facilitated by high performance computing systems and expertise. This year’s Technology Thrusts are represented in many aspects of the technical program, as well as in the exhibits.

In addition to adding the Technology Thrust areas, we have added a 20th Anniversary Initiative and a Music Initiative. The 20th Anniversary Initiative has created a museum-quality exhibit of the past 20 years of the conference and related technological advances, and an archive of videos, photos, and memorabilia that will live on into perpetuity. Austin being known as The Live Music Capital of the World gave rise to the Music Initiative, which explores the effect of high performance technologies on the generation of music.

Finally, we introduced SC Your Way to facilitate the attendee’s experience at the conference and in the city of Austin. SC Your Way helps an attendee select a hotel, a restaurant, or an evening activity, in addition to facilitating their navigation of the many events at SC08.

The successes of the Broader Engagement Program, the Education Program, and the Cluster Challenge compelled us to continue and support them this year. Each has grown in size and “reach.”

HPCwire: As a conference attendee, what are you most looking forward to at SC08?

Teller: Quoting a dear friend in the 20th Anniversary video, the conference is like the County Fair…. I am looking forward to everything, including seeing and visiting with friends and colleagues!

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