A Week at the International Supercomputing Conference

By Tom Tabor

June 11, 2010

ISC Celebrates 25 Years

Congratulations to Hans Meuer and the “old timers” — Hans’ reference to the six colleagues who were with him at the very first ISC event. Presented with their designations from 25 years ago, they are:

  • Dr. Werner Butscher, HPC specialist at Prakla Seismos.
  • Dr. Wolfgang Gentzsch, HPC specialist at DLR.
  • Dr. Hans Meuer, computing center director and professor at Mannheim University.
  • Dr. Kenichi Miura, HPC expert at Fujitsu.
  • Helmut Mühl-Kühner, managing director of Convex in Germany.
  • Dr. Wolfgang Nagel, research assistant at FZ Juelich.
  • Erich Schnepf, HPC specialist at Siemens AG.

At 74 years old (June 7th was his birthday, Happy Birthday Hans!), this jovial professor runs ISC as if it’s still a quaint gathering of his European HPC colleagues. It should be noted that this open atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship lends to great discussions, networking and collaborations. Celebrating its 25th year, the event is now “the” HPC event in Europe. Congratulations on another successful year, Hans — wishing you many more to come!

Hans Meuer, General Chair ISC; Wolfgang Gentzsch, ISC Cloud General Chair, Contributing Editor of HPC in the Cloud; Tom Tabor, Publisher HPC in the Cloud & HPCwire

Intel – the biggest announcement at the event

Editor Michael Feldman covers Intel’s surprise announcement and its plans for building an HPC coprocessor. Many were not briefed and were thus caught by surprise with this announcement. An Intel source informed me that the board approved the announcement just days before ISC, giving their HPC team little opportunity to get the word out to their hardware partners.


The TOP500 is not all that exciting this year, but continues to get great global coverage. Everyone loves a horse race and supercomputing is no exception. Coverage of the TOP500 came in from the BBC, MSNBC, and Cnet, just to name a few.

Here are a couple of comments from two ardent followers of the list:

Michael Feldman, editor of HPCwire, said, ”A Chinese supercomputer called Nebulae, powered by the latest Fermi GPUs, grabbed the number two spot on the TOP500… It’s also good news for China. That country is developing its supercomputing resources at a rapid pace now, especially at the top end of the spectrum. This latest list puts 24 Chinese systems in the TOP500 — tied with Germany, and trailing only the US, UK, and France. And from an aggregate performance standpoint, China is second only to the US.

Besides the China-GPU excitement, the rest of the TOP500 news was rather humdrum.”

Chris Willard, Chief Research Officer for Intersect360 Research, wrote: “…outside of the HPC technical community, the computer science part of the TOP500 is largely ignored, reducing one of the most complex technologies and markets in the world to a few dozen statistics. This is like sending your child to medical school based on which institution has the highest-rated basketball team, or like assuming that one can understand chemistry by examining the bottom rows of the periodic table.”

Microsoft – Modeling the World

Imagine the day with HPC in the cloud and swiping your credit card to gain access and pay for all you might need. This is where Microsoft is heading. The belief is there are millions of HPC users in the “missing middle” who don’t necessarily need petascale technologies but need HPC to solve problems. Isn’t this what we’ve been working toward all these years? Since 1985 at the start of the Supercomputing Era, this is what we envisioned and we’re now ever so close!

IDC Market Update

IDC released its May 2010 HPC market update (slides of the report are available here in PowerPoint). Overall, the HPC market is projected to grow for some of the following reasons:

  • HPC has become a competitive weapon — global competitiveness is driving R&D.
  • Governments view HPC leadership as critical — national pride and economic prosperity.
  • There are critical HPC issues that need to be solved — global warming, alternative energy, homeland security, etc.
  • “Live” science and “live” engineering — time to solution is months faster with simulations.

New Modeling and Simulation Leadership Panel

Intersect360 Research announced the formation of their Modeling and Simulation Leadership Panel. They’re inviting organizations to become members of this worldwide panel of organizations using computational modeling, simulation and analytics to advance their cutting-edge positions in engineering development and scientific research.

Members will be involved in steering the direction of the HPC industry as it applies to computational modeling, simulation and analysis.

The Russians are coming…

Have you heard of T-Platforms? No surprise if you haven’t, yet another AMD/Intel hardware systems vendor. They’re the “chosen one” of the Russian government. Essentially, whatever they sell, the Russian government will buy and if they don’t have something you’re looking for, the Russian government will pay them to build it. An envious position to be in for any HPC vendor. Having said that, this isn’t that unusual from a nationalistic HPC perspective, the US did this in the formative years of its HPC era. In any case, T-Platforms opened an office in Europe and plans “significant growth in this market.” I’m sure there are a few vendors who would like to welcome them to the very competitive EMEA marketplace, namely IBM, Dell, HP, Bull, SGI, Cray, Fujitsu and NEC, just to name a few. We wish them the best of luck.

Race to Exascale

We caught up with Jack Dongarra and did a very insightful interview where he outlined the challenges of achieving exascale computing and the global efforts towards that end. It should be no surprise that software continues to be the major bottleneck.

In a separate piece, Thomas Sterling and Chirag Dekate of Louisiana State University covered the major activities that have just been created during the last year to engage the talents of the international community including experts in hardware, software, algorithms, and domain science. They named IESP, DOE X-Stack, and DARPA UHPC plus many other smaller initiatives.

We will be significantly expanding our coverage of this very exciting new stage of HPC. Keep an eye on our expanded coverage of the race to exascale.

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