Bigger and Better, International Supercomputing Conference Moves to Hamburg

By Nicole Hemsoth

March 25, 2009

Back in 1986 — at the dawn of the modern supercomputing era — Professor Hans Werner Meuer, then director of the computer center and professor for computer science at the University of Mannheim (Germany) co-founded and organized the “Supercomputer Seminar” to provide a forum for people interested in HPC, encouraging them to exchange professional and personal ideas and experiences. From those early beginnings, the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) has evolved over the years into a world-renowned event, featuring a prestigious HPC exhibition and world-class conference program drawing expert speakers, exhibitors, researchers, IT managers and students from all over the world, thus providing a unique platform for connecting the HPC community on a global scale.

In 1993 Professor Meuer started the TOP500 project together with Erich Strohmaier (previously at the University of Mannheim, now at NERSC at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and Jack Dongarra (University of Tennessee and ORNL). Now a closely watched document, the TOP500 list ranks the most powerful computers in the world by their performance running the Linpack benchmark. The list is generated and released twice a year, in June at the International Supercomputing Conference and again in November at the IEEE-ACM SC Conference in the US.

The ISC, along with the SC conference in the US, is the most important supercomputing event in the world. After starting with 81 participants in Mannheim, the event eventually outgrew that city and moved to Heidelberg for five years, from 2001-2005. Due to significant gains in the number of attendees and the size and number of exhibits, the conference once again had to find a bigger venue, and moved to Dresden in 2006. After three years in the center of “Silicon Saxony,” ISC is now moving to Hamburg, Germany’s “Gateway to the world” and a leading center for aeronautics, technology, media and global industries ranging from energy to consumer products.

When ISC’09 convenes June 23-26 in the Congress Center Hamburg, organizers of the 24th ISC meeting are expecting more than 1,500 participants and about 120 exhibitors from around the world. As final preparations are being made, Prof. Meuer took a break from his duties as general conference chair and provided the following interview to HPCwire.

HPCwire: What are the reasons for moving ISC from Dresden to Hamburg?

Prof. Meuer: We held ISC in Dresden for the past three years, and we were very successful there. For example, in 2008 we had 1,375 participants – more than twice as many as attended ISC 2005, our last year in Heidelberg. The main reason for relocating to Hamburg this year was the lack of space for our constantly expanding exhibition. Through the art of improvisation, we were able to squeeze more exhibitors into the space in Dresden from 2007 to 2008. But for ISC’09, we wanted to be able to accommodate the space requests from both our existing and potential exhibitors. So, after three great years in Dresden we find ourselves in Hamburg, where we will most likely stay for the next two years as well.

HPCwire: You’ll be in Hamburg for 2010 and 2011. Since ISC is THE HPC conference for Europe, have you thought about holding it in another country after 24 years in Germany?

Prof. Meuer: This is a good question, as somewhat more than two-thirds of all our attendees are from Europe. However, since Germany has the lion’s share with 36 percent of all participants, that also speaks to remaining in Germany. However, the US is in second place in number of attendees at 23 percent and the UK is third with 10 percent. We are thinking very hard about the idea of holding ISC 2012 somewhere else in Europe, perhaps Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Barcelona.

HPCwire: What are the most important changes associated with the move to Hamburg?

Prof. Meuer: First and foremost, the conference will take place over four days, from Tuesday through Friday, and attendees can register separately for the days that interest them. We have also changed our long-standing approach of having a single-track program and instituted a limited number of parallel sessions in order to better accommodate our attendees’ wide-ranging interests.

HPCwire: Let’s talk about the program. What are the highlights for this year?

Prof. Meuer: We have four keynote presentations, the first of which starts on Tuesday with the talk, “The Evolution of Interconnects for High Performance Computing,” by Sun Microsystems co-founder and chief architect, Andreas “Andy” von Bechtolsheim. After that, we have three other top-notch keynote addresses with Professor Thomas Sterling of Louisiana State University on Wednesday, Professor Gunter Dueck of IBM Germany on Thursday and concluding with Professor Edgar Koerner of the Honda Research Institute Europe on Friday.

This year we are also offering three in-depth sessions, each lasting four hours, and addressing “Cloud Computing and HPC: Synergy or Competition,” and two themes of particular interest given our location in Hamburg, “Supercomputing Challenges for Research in Aeronautics” and “Climate Modeling and HPC: Challenges in a Changing World.” Last but not least, we are having a “Scientific Afternoon” on Tuesday with three parallel sessions, each featuring eight talks covering hot topics in the sciences. These talks will be selected from the 52 submissions we received in response to our Call for Papers.

HPCwire: Can you talk a little more specifically about the session on cloud computing? Who do you see as the primary audience for this session?

Prof. Meuer: This session will be useful for attendees who are looking at cloud computing from various perspectives: scientists who want to increase their understanding of the potential of cloud computing to the next level; system architects who want to be able to make valid comparisons of the services being offered by solution providers; and finally, IT professionals with budget responsibility who will be asked in the near future to make decisions about HPC and cloud computing for universities, research institutes, as well as industry.

HPCwire: What will attendees get out of this session on cloud computing?

Prof. Meuer: Through this comprehensive session of presentations, participants will gain a deeper understanding of the inherent complexity of cloud computing, as well as the necessary hardware and software components. The session will put participants in a position to make technical and financial decisions based on experiences of already deployed cloud computing systems.

HPCwire: Let’s look at ISC from the perspective of a university staffer, for example someone who works at a campus computing center and is interested in “personal supercomputing,” but can only spend one day at ISC. Is it worth going and what would it cost?

Prof. Meuer: A person in such a job should attend the session on “Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) Panel: Making Your Desktop a Supercomputer?” on Thursday, June 25. In this session, leading experts from around the world will give short presentations looking at this topic from all sides. Under the guidance of moderator Prof. Dr. Kun Zhou from China, an internationally recognized expert in the area of GPUs, the panel participants will engage in a discussion with the audience giving them a chance to ask questions.

To answer your question about the price, for a computing center staff member to attend the full-day program on Thursday would cost 200 Euros, which would be a good investment for his institute. For this fee, he would not only be able to attend the panel discussion but could also choose from other sessions. For example, he could decide to attend the keynote presentation by Prof. Dr. Gunter Dueck, the chief of technology for IBM Germany, which will be a satire called “Lean Brain Management.” Or he could choose to attend the famous “Hot Seat Session,” during which nine representatives from leading vendors will give a short presentation before answering a pithy question posed by one of our “inquisitors.”

Naturally, this fee also includes a nice lunch and refreshments, as well as admission to the ISC exhibition, featuring about 120 companies and institutions, including, incidentally, leading GPU manufacturers AMD, Intel and NVIDIA. And of course, the attendee will receive all the important conference materials as well as Web access to the complete conference proceedings.

And finally, there is an opportunity to attend a two-hour reception on Thursday night featuring Dr. Herlind Gundelach, who leads the science portfolio in Hamburg’s state government. The reception will be held in Hamburg’s famous (and historic) stock exchange, giving attendees a great opportunity for networking and exchanging their own ideas.

HPCwire: What about a person who works for a medium-sized engineering firm and isn’t really interested in the lectures, but wants to see the newest technologies in the exhibition. What can you offer that person?

Prof. Meuer: Our exhibition features every notable IT vendor, including IBM, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Dell, to mention a few of the best known. In addition to these leading manufacturers, we also feature research institutions demonstrating their latest and most innovative applications of HPC. This year we will have institutions from around the world, including the US, South Africa, Asia, and of course Europe. In all, we are expecting 120 exhibitors – the most in the 24-year history of our conference. This combination of commercial and research exhibits, especially the concentration of “big players,” is really unique. Particularly exciting this year will be the debut demonstration of the 40 Gb/s InfiniBand technology, which many of our exhibitors will tap into. Mellanox and QLogic will lead a demonstration in which 20 other exhibitors are planning to participate.

By the way, our engineering firm employee can take full advantage of the exhibition, while also enjoying lunch, refreshments and the evening social event for just 120 Euros, (or just 60 Euros on Tuesday, June 23). This fee also allows him to attend talks in the Exhibitor Forum sessions, or sit in on the Hot Seat sessions. This is an extremely valuable — and enjoyable investment.

HPCwire: Even with the current economic recession, you seem confident that you will set a new record for attendance. What’s behind your confidence?

Prof. Meuer: As an industry, supercomputing continues to trend upwards — we are truly convinced of this and that’s why we are committed to constantly “growing” the conference. And I don’t think this is just wishful thinking. We believe that a longstanding activity such as ISC can provide an important forum for sharing knowledge and helping attendees gain new insights for advancing their work. The ISC conference is the oldest, and in many aspects, the most compelling supercomputing conference in the world. Especially during difficult times, it is important for people to share their experience and knowledge with their colleagues from around the world, and ISC has a tradition of doing exactly that.

We all need to push ourselves and in that way we can help to overcome this economic crisis. We can’t sit things out and hope for the best, but rather need to maintain our momentum. Those of us who are organizing ISC are trying to do our part. Although the costs of staging ISC in Hamburg are significantly higher than before, with the financial support of our sponsors we are able to lower our registration fees. On top of this, we have put together a program that I think is the best ever since we started the conference.

HPCwire: What do you mean when you say the registration fees have been significantly lowered?
 
Prof. Meuer: Let me give you a clear example. At ISC’09, an attendee from an academic institution can register for the entire four-day conference and related activities for 600 Euros. Last year, the cost to attend the three-day conference program was 750 Euros. In short, you pay less and get more. On top of this, the US Dollar has gained strength against the Euro, about 20 percent since last year, making the lower rate even more attractive for our friends in the States.

HPCwire: The 33rd TOP500 list will be unveiled in Hamburg. Can you tell yet whether there will be any big surprises?

Prof. Meuer: At last year’s conference, the 31st edition of the TOP500 list was topped by the first-ever petaflop/s machine, the IBM supercomputer installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory and named “Roadrunner,” which carried out more than 10^15 floating point operations per second running the Linpack benchmark. In the 32nd list that we released at the SC08 conference in Austin last November there appeared a second petaflop/s machine – the Cray XT5 “Jaguar” at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which placed just behind Roadrunner at the top of the list. I expect that Jaguar will top the next list, and that Roadrunner will lose its top ranking. I’ve seen several indicators pointing to this change, so it won’t be a big surprise if it happens. But to know for sure, we will just have to wait for the ISC’09 opening session.

HPCwire: Thank you for your comments, Prof. Meuer, and we wish you continued success at ISC’09, as well as many interested and engaged attendees in Hamburg.

The interview for HPCwire was conducted in German by Dr. Hans Günther Kruse, director of the computing center of Mannheim University, Germany, and translated into English by Jon Bashor, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

More detailed information about ISC’09 can be found at www.isc09.org.

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