A Conversation with SC09 General Chair Wilf Pinfold

By Nicole Hemsoth

November 6, 2009

Wilfred “Wilf” Pinfold is this year’s general chair for SC09, the 22nd annual event in the Supercomputing series. He is also the director of Extreme Scale Programs at Intel. In this Q&A, Wilf shares his thoughts on organizing the conference, explains this year’s big themes (hint: sustainability plays a big part) and gives his opinions on the state of the industry and how that reflects on the conference.

HPCwire: Wilf, you’ve been involved in SC for some time, but this year you’re the general chair. What’s it like being the lead organizer for a 10,000-plus attendee conference?

Wilfred Robert Pinfold: I have played roles in the technical program, exhibits, and communications and have been a participant since 1989. Each year the conference has grown and matured, and each year, the new conference chair has taken the best from the previous year and built on it. This history provides a substantial knowledge base and culture that you learn to trust and rely on.

As the general chair for a year, there are two decisions that stand out as the most critical. The first is selecting the committee. These people not only need to be passionate and competent in what you are asking them to do, but they must also be willing and able to commit substantial amounts of their time over the 2 to 3 year planning cycle. Through a combination of good judgment and luck, I have an extraordinary committee. The second is deciding what to keep unchanged and what to change or build on. I have found that anything you change takes an order of magnitude more time and effort than the things the community has done well before. However, in a subject as dynamic as high performance computing, change is a critical element. So, each year the chair must decide what changes to take on.

HPCwire: What are the big themes for SC09 and why were they singled out?

Pinfold: We chose to structure much of this year’s content around three thrust areas. These thrust areas were selected as areas in which high performance computing has had, is having, and will have a very substantial impact on society. The intention is to make high performance computing more accessible by making its impact on our lives more tangible.

Starting with the Tuesday opening address – the future opportunity of the 3D Internet will be introduced by Justin Rattner. The 3D Internet is about users immersing themselves in data from scientific instruments (telescopes, spacecraft, topographic imaging systems) or from extreme data sources (the internet, genomic data, financial markets).

On Wednesday the plenary speaker will be Leroy Hood, a leader in systems biology who will explore bio-computing, an area of intense current research and development. We will look at the promise this field offers in discovering treatments for many chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

On Thursday the keynote will address sustainability, an area where the high performance computing community has already dramatically impacted public policy with weather modeling and the scientific foundations for alternative energy in fusion, hydroelectric and wind power. Al Gore will discuss the importance of highly accurate climate and pollution models in making good public policy decisions. Following these plenary sessions the technical program and exhibits will dig more deeply into these concepts. I am excited by the opportunity these thrust areas give us in reaching a wider audience.

HPCwire: This year, there is a design competition for the “Data Center of the Future,” which fits in nicely with the sustainability theme. Can you tell us what that competition entails?

Pinfold: The “Data Center of the Future” is one of the new concepts we introduced this year and it has already gone through some change. The competition has been replaced with a booth, tutorial, panel and two Birds of a Feather sessions. The booth will showcase technologies from UCAR/NCAR, LBNL, University of Illinois, ORNL, Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Swiss National Supercomputing Center and the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The tutorial will address “Power and Thermal Management in Datacenters”; the panel will discuss “Energy Efficient Datacenters: How Lean and Green Do We Need to Be?”; and the BoFs will look into the “Green500” and the “Energy Efficient HPC Working Group.” These forums better address the breadth of this topic.

HPCwire: The SC crowd seems to get a little younger each year. What’s on tap for students and other newcomers to the community?

Pinfold: We have an excellent student program this year. Student volunteers will have the opportunity to learn about, and discuss, the latest technologies in exchange for helping make the conference a success. We will provide them face-to-face networking opportunities with potential employers exhibiting at SC09 and a Mentor/Protégé Program to match each participant (protégé) with a mentor who has attended SC before and who is willing to share their experiences.

HPCwire: For the keynote address, SC seems to vacillate between more conventional speakers from within the industry and thought leaders from without. This year’s selection of Al Gore is clearly in the latter category. What went into his selection and was he difficult to book?

Pinfold: Portland helped us select sustainability as one of our thrust areas for 2009. The city itself and the local community are very well attuned to sustainable practices. We assembled a list of the top speakers in sustainability technology thought leadership. VP Al Gore was top on this list. Al Gore will speak on “Computing Solutions For a Changing World.” There are additional complexities to scheduling a high-profile speaker but starting early and having very competent planners made it relatively seamless.

HPCwire: Putting yourself in the role of attendee, what do you think are some of the can’t-miss sessions, presentations, or events this year?

Pinfold: That is hard. We go out of our way to make sure there is something for everyone. To help guide attendees this year we have set up three thrust areas Sustainability, Bio-computing and 3D Internet. These areas help provide a context for how the technologies HPC, networking, storage and analytics work to provide value in key areas of scientific endeavor. By using the SC Your Way section of the conference Web site, attendees can tailor their schedule based on topics and keywords of interest – so it gets much easier each year to build a personal schedule that will help each attendee get the most out of the conference. I hope this will help guide attendees to the can’t-miss material in their fields.

HPCwire: It’s been a tough year for the industry, which has seen a lot of consolidation and scaling back. How is this affecting the exhibitor presence?

Pinfold: As you probably know we sell the majority of our booth space at a booth selection event at the conference the year before the event. The industry mainstays all signed up and several expanded their presence. New exhibitors tended to hold back waiting to see if they would be in a position to sign up. In just the past month, we have had an extraordinary surge of companies signing up for booth space. We will have a sold-out tradeshow floor at the event.

HPCwire: A lot of organizations are cutting event travel in these lean times. Do you think the attendance will drop off this year, hold steady, or increase?

Pinfold: We saw a significant increase in attendance in 2008 despite the economic downturn. This year we planned conservatively for an attendance between 2007 and 2008 levels. So we see it as holding steady and possibly increasing. Current registration numbers are following this trend. Exhibits were slow but late demand has been high and if this holds true for registration, we may actually set a new record.

I can only speculate why SC has been able to retain attendance when so many events have been hurt by travel budget cuts. If I were to guess it is that SC is mission critical for many in the community. It is an excellent place to do business with such a large part of the HPC community in attendance. For thousands of HPC professionals, if they can only attend one event each year, this is going to be the event they will select.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

African Supercomputing Center Inaugurates ‘Toubkal,’ Most Powerful Supercomputer on the Continent

February 25, 2021

Historically, Africa hasn’t exactly been synonymous with supercomputing. There are only a handful of supercomputers on the continent, with few ranking on the global stage. Now, the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (U Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer-Powered Machine Learning Supports Fusion Energy Reactor Design

February 25, 2021

Energy researchers have been reaching for the stars for decades in their attempt to artificially recreate a stable fusion energy reactor. If successful, such a reactor would revolutionize the world’s energy supply over Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Japan to Debut Integrated Fujitsu HPC/AI Supercomputer This Spring

February 25, 2021

The integrated Fujitsu HPC/AI Supercomputer, Wisteria, is coming to Japan this spring. The University of Tokyo is preparing to deploy a heterogeneous computing system, called "Wisteria/BDEC-01," that will tackle simulati Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President Biden Signs Executive Order to Review Chip, Other Supply Chains

February 24, 2021

U.S. President Biden signed an executive order late today calling for a 100-day review of key supply chains including semiconductors, large capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals, and rare-earth elements. The scarcity of ch Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx Launches Alveo SN1000 SmartNIC

February 24, 2021

FPGA vendor Xilinx has debuted its latest SmartNIC model, the Alveo SN1000, with integrated “composability” features that allow enterprise users to add their own custom networking functions to supplement its built-in networking. By providing deep flexibility... Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

AWS Solution Channel

Introducing AWS HPC Tech Shorts

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is excited to announce a new videos series focused on running HPC workloads on AWS. This new video series will cover HPC workloads from genomics, computational chemistry, to computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and more. Read more…

ASF Keynotes Showcase How HPC and Big Data Have Pervaded the Pandemic

February 24, 2021

Last Thursday, a range of experts joined the Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) in a rapid-fire roundtable to discuss how advanced technologies have transformed the way humanity responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in indelible ways. The roundtable, held near the one-year mark of the first... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Japan to Debut Integrated Fujitsu HPC/AI Supercomputer This Spring

February 25, 2021

The integrated Fujitsu HPC/AI Supercomputer, Wisteria, is coming to Japan this spring. The University of Tokyo is preparing to deploy a heterogeneous computing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Xilinx Launches Alveo SN1000 SmartNIC

February 24, 2021

FPGA vendor Xilinx has debuted its latest SmartNIC model, the Alveo SN1000, with integrated “composability” features that allow enterprise users to add their own custom networking functions to supplement its built-in networking. By providing deep flexibility... Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

ASF Keynotes Showcase How HPC and Big Data Have Pervaded the Pandemic

February 24, 2021

Last Thursday, a range of experts joined the Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) in a rapid-fire roundtable to discuss how advanced technologies have transformed the way humanity responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in indelible ways. The roundtable, held near the one-year mark of the first... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM’s Prototype Low-Power 7nm AI Chip Offers ‘Precision Scaling’

February 23, 2021

IBM has released details of a prototype AI chip geared toward low-precision training and inference across different AI model types while retaining model quality within AI applications. In a paper delivered during this year’s International Solid-State Circuits Virtual Conference, IBM... Read more…

By George Leopold

IBM Continues Mainstreaming Power Systems and Integrating Red Hat in Pivot to Cloud

February 23, 2021

As IBM continues its massive pivot to the cloud, its Power-microprocessor-based products are being mainstreamed and realigned with the corporate-wide strategy. Read more…

By John Russell

Livermore’s El Capitan Supercomputer to Debut HPE ‘Rabbit’ Near Node Local Storage

February 18, 2021

A near node local storage innovation called Rabbit factored heavily into Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s decision to select Cray’s proposal for its CORAL-2 machine, the lab’s first exascale-class supercomputer, El Capitan. Details of this new storage technology were revealed... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ENIAC at 75: Celebrating the World’s First Supercomputer

February 15, 2021

With little fanfare, today’s computer revolution was arguably born and announced through a small, innocuous, two-column story at the bottom of the front page of The New York Times on Feb. 15, 1946. In that story and others, the previously classified project, ENIAC... Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

Microsoft, HPE Bringing AI, Edge, Cloud to Earth Orbit in Preparation for Mars Missions

February 12, 2021

The International Space Station will soon get a delivery of powerful AI, edge and cloud computing tools from HPE and Microsoft Azure to expand technology experi Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

By John Russell

Esperanto Unveils ML Chip with Nearly 1,100 RISC-V Cores

December 8, 2020

At the RISC-V Summit today, Art Swift, CEO of Esperanto Technologies, announced a new, RISC-V based chip aimed at machine learning and containing nearly 1,100 low-power cores based on the open-source RISC-V architecture. Esperanto Technologies, headquartered in... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Azure Scaled to Record 86,400 Cores for Molecular Dynamics

November 20, 2020

A new record for HPC scaling on the public cloud has been achieved on Microsoft Azure. Led by Dr. Jer-Ming Chia, the cloud provider partnered with the Beckman I Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

NICS Unleashes ‘Kraken’ Supercomputer

April 4, 2008

A Cray XT4 supercomputer, dubbed Kraken, is scheduled to come online in mid-summer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS). The soon-to-be petascale system, and the resulting NICS organization, are the result of an NSF Track II award of $65 million to the University of Tennessee and its partners to provide next-generation supercomputing for the nation's science community. Read more…

Programming the Soon-to-Be World’s Fastest Supercomputer, Frontier

January 5, 2021

What’s it like designing an app for the world’s fastest supercomputer, set to come online in the United States in 2021? The University of Delaware’s Sunita Chandrasekaran is leading an elite international team in just that task. Chandrasekaran, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, recently was named... Read more…

By Tracey Bryant

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Top500: Fugaku Keeps Crown, Nvidia’s Selene Climbs to #5

November 16, 2020

With the publication of the 56th Top500 list today from SC20's virtual proceedings, Japan's Fugaku supercomputer – now fully deployed – notches another win, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Gordon Bell Special Prize Goes to Massive SARS-CoV-2 Simulations

November 19, 2020

2020 has proven a harrowing year – but it has produced remarkable heroes. To that end, this year, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) introduced the Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Texas A&M Announces Flagship ‘Grace’ Supercomputer

November 9, 2020

Texas A&M University has announced its next flagship system: Grace. The new supercomputer, named for legendary programming pioneer Grace Hopper, is replacing the Ada system (itself named for mathematician Ada Lovelace) as the primary workhorse for Texas A&M’s High Performance Research Computing (HPRC). Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

At Oak Ridge, ‘End of Life’ Sometimes Isn’t

October 31, 2020

Sometimes, the old dog actually does go live on a farm. HPC systems are often cursed with short lifespans, as they are continually supplanted by the latest and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Saudi Aramco Unveils Dammam 7, Its New Top Ten Supercomputer

January 21, 2021

By revenue, oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world, and it has historically employed commensurate amounts of supercomputing Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Intel Xe-HP GPU Deployed for Aurora Exascale Development

November 17, 2020

At SC20, Intel announced that it is making its Xe-HP high performance discrete GPUs available to early access developers. Notably, the new chips have been deplo Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Teases Ice Lake-SP, Shows Competitive Benchmarking

November 17, 2020

At SC20 this week, Intel teased its forthcoming third-generation Xeon "Ice Lake-SP" server processor, claiming competitive benchmarking results against AMD's second-generation Epyc "Rome" processor. Ice Lake-SP, Intel's first server processor with 10nm technology... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

By John Russell

It’s Fugaku vs. COVID-19: How the World’s Top Supercomputer Is Shaping Our New Normal

November 9, 2020

Fugaku is currently the most powerful publicly ranked supercomputer in the world – but we weren’t supposed to have it yet. The supercomputer, situated at Japan’s Riken scientific research institute, was scheduled to come online in 2021. When the pandemic struck... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

MIT Makes a Big Breakthrough in Nonsilicon Transistors

December 10, 2020

What if Silicon Valley moved beyond silicon? In the 80’s, Seymour Cray was asking the same question, delivering at Supercomputing 1988 a talk titled “What’s All This About Gallium Arsenide?” The supercomputing legend intended to make gallium arsenide (GaA) the material of the future... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire