ISC 2018 Preview from @hpcnotes

By Andrew Jones

June 21, 2018

Editor’s note: As we enter the final countdown to the ISC kickoff in Frankfurt, Andrew Jones (aka @hpcnotes) offers his look at what’s in store for the week ahead.

Prepare for your social media feed to be saturated with #HPC, #ISC18, #Top500, etc. Prepare for your mainstream media to talk about supercomputers (in between the hourly commentary on Brexit, the FIFA World Cup, or US presidential antics). Yes, it’s time for ISC 2018 – the 2nd biggest annual gathering of the world’s High Performance Computing community in Frankfurt next week.

What can we look forward to?

A new holder of the Top500 crown

The world’s fastest supercomputer gets (formally) announced. Assuming you haven’t been hiding in some internet-free corner of the world for the last few weeks, you’ll already have been inundated by the build up to the inauguration of the Summit supercomputer built by [insert ORNL/IBM/NVIDIA/USA/DOE/… depending on who’s PR you are reading]. Barring an almighty shock announcement, the USA/DOE/ORNL/IBM/NVIDIA (and anyone else who can claim involvement) will wrestle the title of world’s fastest supercomputer from the Chinese Sunway TaihuLight. Does it really matter? This article in WiredUK quotes me and Jack Dongarra on this question. In short, my view is that 2x doesn’t deliver competitive leadership on its own, as that is within the reach of better software/people/practices. 10x would matter, as would failing to have the people/software/practices to take advantage of the 2x.

The promise of technology diversity hits reality

We have predicted (SC17 review, HPC benchmarking webinar, 2018 HPC predictions) that the choice of processors (Xeon, EPYC, TX2, Power, GPUs) for HPC systems will be a major issue during 2018. This has been proven true as HPC buyers invest effort (their own research, or via benchmark services such as NAG) to properly evaluate the range of options. However, at ISC18 I expect to hear more about the range of processors being deployed in practice. We know about Power and GPUs at ORNL and LLNL. We know about the Cavium TX2 systems at Bristol (Cray) and Sandia (HPE). Will we hear rumors or confirmed stories of new industry supercomputer wins for Power or TX2 or EPYC at ISC18? My (informed) guess is yes.

Where are the future HPC people?

HPC hardware is all very exciting – but is merely energy hungry modern art with moving pieces unless we have people to program the supercomputers and deliver science and business value using them. I’m pleased to see a lot of action on this front at ISC18. The ISC team will be running a STEM student day on Wednesday 27th to introduce STEM students to the world of computational science and HPC. There will be a Women-in-HPC workshop and reception at ISC18. There will be the usual student HPC cluster competition. (While we are talking about future HPC people, here is a blatant plug for my HPC Leadership Institute training at TACC in September.) I will be trying to coordinate some industry leaders to produce a video promoting careers in HPC to STEM students (please get in touch if you want to get involved).

Attention please!

The usual suspects will do their best to hog the attention of ISC attendees and non-attendees alike. PR from purveyors of products and services in AI/ML, cloud, quantum computing, etc. will demand a share of the attention out of proportion to their actual role in the HPC community. Not to say these can’t/won’t be potential gamer-changers for HPC – they will be – but they are still in their infancy compared to the much more mature and pervasive traditional HPC use cases. ISC18 is a good opportunity to find out the reality and possibilities from peers, talks and exhibitors.

Pick of the agenda

There is so much valuable content on the program at ISC18 it is impossible to attend it all. This is a purely personal list, but if I weren’t constrained by other meetings or travel, I’d make sure I attended these sessions:

  • Tuesday keynote on Photonics by Keren Bergman (who I was lucky enough to be introduced to at a DOE workshop nearly a decade ago);
  • Thomas Sterling’s annual summary of the HPC world on Wednesday (a great speaker and very useful talk);
  • The Industrial Day on Tuesday (industry use of HPC is not new, but it is under-reported – Marie-Christine has pulled together a good list of speakers);
  • The “GoingArm” workshop on Thursday (essential knowledge base as Cavium TX2 starts to appear in deployed HPC systems);
  • Monday’s talk on XALT (knowing what your systems are actually doing / being used for)
  • Tuesday’s session on Cybersecurity for HPC (I’ve been involved in a NIST-led group, including the speaker Sean, to help the community on this topic);
  • Analyst Crossfire on Wednesday (fun, but informative too);
  • … I could go on but I’ll just end up with most of the agenda listed!

I know that face

A major value of ISC (and SC) is the opportunity to meet and network with so many people in the HPC community. Learning from (and helping) peers on technical challenges and opportunities; talking with experts; uncovering career options; and more – ISC18 is about the networking receptions, side meetings, and informal chats after the talks – as much as it is about the exhibition and technical program.

See you all in Frankfurt – if you see me, do feel free to say hello or ask my views on anything to do with HPC!

About the Author

Andrew Jones has over 20 years experience in HPC across industry, government and academia, and is acknowledged as one of the leading voices on the business and people aspects of HPC. Andrew is VP of NAG’s international impartial HPC consulting practice, which is trusted by clients around the world to provide expert advice on strategy, technology and software performance for HPC and cloud. Andrew is active on twitter as @hpcnotes.

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