Making High Performance Computing Special — the ACM Way

By John E. West

November 15, 2011

This month ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, announced the launch of its newest Special Interest Group, SIGHPC. This is the first international group within a major professional society that is devoted exclusively to the needs of students, faculty, and practitioners in high performance computing.

HPCwire caught up with Cherri Pancake, Professor at Oregon State University and the first Chair of SIGHPC, to get her take on what the group is today, and the role she sees for it in the future of the high performance computing community.

HPCwire: Cherri, what is SIGHPC, and why was it started?

Cherri Pancake: SIGHPC is the Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing. SIGHPC is one of about three dozen SIGs sponsored by the ACM over the  last several decades. The SIGs allow for more focused communities of interest to develop within the broader context of ACM. SIGs keep members up-to-date with the latest technical developments, provide an opportunity to network with colleagues outside the workplace, and deliver the latest information in a particular area of focus.

SIGHPC was started to promote the advancement of the field in three specific ways. First, by disseminating research and experience by those using computing resources to tackle problems at the largest scale. Second, by promoting the mentoring and education of the next generation HPC professionals. And third, by serving as a source of information about the field to other parts of ACM and the larger scientific community.

HPCwire: HPC is a diverse community. Does SIGHPC focus on a particular set of areas or subparts of the discipline, such as programming or architecture?

Pancake: SIGHPC focuses on HPC in the broadest sense of the term. We are after the individuals and organizations that work in the full range of high-performance technologies, systems, and applications.  And you are right: this approach does include an extremely wide variety of organizations and individuals engaged in studying, developing, teaching, and supporting high-performance computing, storage, networking, software, and systems.  It also encompasses an even wider range of people engaged in applying HPC across a broad spectrum of scientific, engineering, and business domains.

HPCwire: Other than being part of the latest cool thing, what are the reasons you tell people they should consider joining SIGHPC?

Pancake: Part of the excitement of high performance computing as a career is its multi-disciplinary nature: HPC brings together computational techniques, algorithms, system software, computer architecture, parallel programming, and system administration. But this diversity also creates a real challenge! Finding your way among the choices and career paths can be daunting.

One of our key goals for SIGHPC is for it to serve as a hub where young professionals — and students — and seasoned HPC professionals can work together to the benefit of all. Those new to our community will find the rich experiences and hard-won lessons of those who have gone before an invaluable resource in planning their own careers. Experienced practitioners will find the energy, enthusiasm, and emerging skills of a younger generation will inform their own decisions as they continue to grow in their own careers.

And, of course, SIGHPC will also offer the services and experiences the members of ACM’s best SIGs have come to expect, like:

– SIGHPC members are eligible for discounted member rates at SIGHPC sponsored and cooperating workshops and conferences, including major international events such as the annual SC conference.

– Members receive email and online versions of at least 3 newsletters each year, filled with HPC updates, descriptions of upcoming activities, and opportunities to be a part of the HPC community.

– Access to HPC-specific research reports, conference proceedings, theses and dissertations, and more that we will be depositing in the ACM Digital Library, without having to pay a separate subscription to access the Library.

HPCwire: What’s the process to join? Do SIGHPC members also have to sign up for ACM?

Pancake: While all of us feel that ACM membership has a lot to offer, we do recognize that not everyone will want to go that route, and this is particularly true for members of the HPC community who work in science and engineering application areas or are outside theUnited States. That’sone of the main reasons that we selected ACM as the parent organization for our group: anyone can join SIGHPC without having to first join ACM.

In our discussions with ACM we were also very concerned about keeping access to SIGHPC as affordable as possible in order to reach the widest possible cross-section of our community. Membership is only $25 per year.  People who join during “SC Week,” that is, before November 18, 2011, will save $5 off that rate.

HPCwire: Starting a new organization, particularly one that aims to have a significant impact in a community as broad as HPC, is challenging. How are you and ACM managing that challenge? Have you started to get traction?

Pancake: This has been a tremendously rewarding experience for all of us. We first tested the idea of some kind of organizing activity for the HPC during a town hall at SC10 and found the response overwhelmingly positive, which gave us the energy to follow through with the concept. Getting to the launch of the SIG on the first of November was a long process, and we

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