SC18 Preview: Going Big in Dallas

By Andrew Jones (@hpcnotes)

November 6, 2018

The annual festival of supercomputing is only a few days away. Over 10,000 members of the global HPC community will gather in Dallas starting this coming weekend for the SC18 conference.

Perhaps surprisingly for such a niche area, SC is a huge event. If you leave your planning until you get to Dallas, then you won’t get the best value out of SC. In fact, if you don’t start planning at least a month prior, then you will massively hinder your ability to benefit from the huge personal and business opportunity that is SC. Even a decent sized team will struggle to attend everything the official program has to offer. On top of this, there will be a plethora of public and private meetings outside the official program, many of which are more valuable than the official program. Plus, there will be the usual flood of press releases, social media blasts, etc.

Out of all of this, what will emerge as the key themes? What are some essential things to do/attend? To help, here is the near-annual tradition of the @hpcnotes SC preview …

Have you missed the big news?

The press releases and rumors are active already – many key stories will hit the media before SC starts and these often shape the debates that occur during SC week itself, when news becomes too hard to keep up with as people rush between meetings, presentations, etc.

You’ll need to have a really big story to get any widespread attention of the attendees during SC week itself. For example, announcements related to the world’s next biggest supercomputers. We’ve had the pre-SC announcement of the NERSC-9 supercomputer as an AMD based Cray system. If the CORAL2 winners were announced (or widely gossiped) then that would catch attention, as would a new Top10 non-US supercomputer, or large wins for unexpected vendors, etc.

Such rumors are circulating, and if the rumors are to be believed, one significant vendor might be a notable by their near-absence, and one vendor that many dismissed might be looking like a safer bet. However, you’ll have to wait until you get to Dallas to find out more! (Or try to get me to be indiscrete on Twitter or LinkedIn.)

SC doesn’t start on Monday

The SC gala opening reception might be Monday night, but a huge chunk of the valuable opportunities of SC week are well before this. Monday itself has the excellent tutorials and workshops program. Sunday is the same. In fact, I’d argue that often the Sunday & Monday programs are more valuable – technically and for your career – than the Tuesday thru Thursday agenda. Saturday, Friday, Thursday (working backwards from SC!) usually have vendor arranged semi-private events, many of which can be very useful in both content and networking opportunities.

Some people are already on their way to Dallas today to get the best value out of the SC festival. Most will arrive over the weekend. Some on Monday. Arriving later than Monday is like turning up for the closing credits of the movie. Indeed, as thousands of HPC people make their way to Dallas, there will inevitably be encounters during the travel – and these can be highly useful conversations – from quick hellos to save time in Dallas, to career defining discrete chats, uncovering new contacts, etc.

It’s all about the CPU

Right, we’ve got this far, we can’t ignore the topic any longer. Yes, however much the HPC community talks about people, software, whole system, user interfaces, etc. – given the slightest trigger, we all descend into focusing on the processors. Intel vs whoever. And, the whoevers are now really loud.

Intel and AMD have been busy announcing plans in the run up to SC. Intel’s recent roadmap shuffles haven’t been handled well, and their announcement of a Cascade Lake two-in-a-box CPU wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm by the HPC world, with concerns over cost, power, etc. However, Intel’s Skylake is still winning the lion’s share of deals for near-term delivery. AMD’s EPYC Zen2 or ‘Rome’ looks promising in theoretical performance and cost for future systems, but application benchmarks and software ecosystems will be key.

Answering the question of which processor to buy next will be one of the top goals for many attendees at SC18. In fact, understanding the opportunities and risks around future processors has been a vibrant topic in the HPC world over the last year or so. Our HPC consulting team has been kept busy running application benchmarks and conducting risk evaluations for numerous customers – HPC buyers from industry, research labs, plus some vendors, to inform the planning. Who wins? Depending on your application mix, risk tolerance, software situation, etc. any of the main players could emerge as the winner for you – EPYC, Xeon, Power9, ThunderX2, Volta, etc. I’ve seen enough real data to believe a clear trend will emerge over the next year or so, but I’ll save that prediction for a post-SC article.

Pick of the agenda

Gossip is great, but what to actually attend in Dallas? Here are my picks of the SC week’s agenda.

Sunday 11th.

1x Workshop ‘Women in HPC’ – excellent networking opportunities, great technical content, top career advice, and welcoming to all; and 1x Tutorial ‘InfiniBand, Omni-Path, and High-Speed Ethernet for Beginners’ – it might be seen as a niche technical area but networks are key to what we do in HPC.

Monday 12th.

2x Tutorials ‘The Business of HPC: TCO, Funding Models, Metrics, Value, and More’ and ‘Procurement and Commissioning of HPC Systems’ – the only sensible way to spend your Monday and easily one of the best value activities all week! 🙂

If you really have to miss my tutorials, then you won’t regret attending the keynote talk on the student agenda ‘The Computing Hidden in Everyday Things’ by Thomas Lange – one of the most gifted speakers in the art of explaining the value and impact of HPC.

Tuesday 13th.

Tuesday’s 8.30am keynote ‘Explore How to Deploy the Unruly Power of Machine, Platform, and Crowd’ addresses important themes about how the technology discussed at SC – HPC, ML, etc. – fits into the real world of people.

The 10.30am panel ‘HPC in Cloud or Cloud in HPC: Myths, Misconceptions and Misinformation’ looks interesting (another hot topic of our consulting work over the recent times).

Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th.

The HPC Impact Showcase has a great agenda and I’d recommend attending this if possible. And not just because several of the speakers are customers of my consulting services! The use of HPC in industry is under-reported (mostly due to confidentiality) so take any opportunity to find out more about how industry uses just as much HPC as the public research labs and universities. Importantly, you can also learn where industry is ahead of academia and the national labs.


You can’t seriously have got this far along the SC18 journey without noticing that SC18 is the 30th anniversary of the first SC. There will be celebrations, awards, history displays, etc. I’d like to set you each a task though. What can we learn from how the technology, business and people of HPC has changed in 30 years? What lessons can we apply to the next 30 years? Or even to the next five? Discuss it at SC18 and come home with a vision. Share your learnings and hopes on social media (feel free to tag me, @hpcnotes) and other community platforms. Let’s use our rich history to help optimize our future.


Just like AI, quantum computing, and GPUs, cloud hogs HPC media attention out of proportion to actual usage. Cloud will be a big topic at SC18. And rightly so. Cloud won’t replace on-premise HPC any time soon. Traditional HPC solutions win on total cost, performance, etc. in plenty of cases. But, slowly, the cloud providers are accepting the truth about the economics of HPC and are adjusting their offerings to win on business value (and eventually on cost too). Cloud is probably on the downward slope of the hype curve. But cloud will eventually become a (the) leading means of deploying HPC capacity in most scenarios. That day is close enough that it should be in your planning scope. If you are a buyer, how will you evaluate cloud against traditional options without bias (either way)? As a user, what is your plan to get skilled up? As a developer, what changes are required to your code base and your development methods? If you are a cloud provider, what is your plan to engage the HPC market in their own terms, rather than as just another IT segment?

In Dallas

I’m looking forward to an intense and valuable week in Dallas. If you see me around SC (or on the journey there), please feel free to say hello, trade gossip (I won’t break confidences though), share travel stories, argue with anything I’ve written here, or ask for opinions on any aspect of HPC.

Hope you have a productive SC18!

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.

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!

RPI Powers Up ‘AiMOS’ AI Supercomputer

December 11, 2019

Designed to push the frontiers of computing chip and systems performance optimized for AI workloads, an 8 petaflops (Linpack) IBM Power9-based supercomputer has been unveiled in upstate New York that will be used by IBM Read more…

By Doug Black

At SC19: Developing a Digital Twin

December 11, 2019

In the not too distant future, we can expect to see our skies filled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivering packages, maybe even people, from location to location. In such a world, there will also be a digita Read more…

By Aaron Dubrow

Supercomputers Help Predict Carbon Dioxide Levels

December 10, 2019

The Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems – its lands, forests, jungles and so on – are crucial “sinks” for atmospheric carbon, holding nearly 30 percent of our annual CO2 emissions as they breathe in the carbon-rich Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Finally! SC19 Competitors Live and in Color!

December 10, 2019

You know the saying “better late than never”? That’s how my cluster competition coverage is faring this year. With SC19 coming late in November, quickly followed by my annual trip to South Africa to cover their clu Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel’s Jim Clarke on its New Cryo-controller and why Intel isn’t Late to the Quantum Party

December 9, 2019

Intel today introduced the ‘first-of-its-kind’ cryo-controller chip for quantum computing and previewed a cryo-prober tool for characterizing quantum processor chips. The new controller is a mixed-signal SoC named Ho Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

GPU Scheduling and Resource Accounting: The Key to an Efficient AI Data Center

[Connect with LSF users and learn new skills in the IBM Spectrum LSF User Community!]

GPUs are the new CPUs

GPUs have become a staple technology in modern HPC and AI data centers. Read more…

What’s New in HPC Research: Natural Gas, Precision Agriculture, Neural Networks and More

December 6, 2019

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

RPI Powers Up ‘AiMOS’ AI Supercomputer

December 11, 2019

Designed to push the frontiers of computing chip and systems performance optimized for AI workloads, an 8 petaflops (Linpack) IBM Power9-based supercomputer has Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel’s Jim Clarke on its New Cryo-controller and why Intel isn’t Late to the Quantum Party

December 9, 2019

Intel today introduced the ‘first-of-its-kind’ cryo-controller chip for quantum computing and previewed a cryo-prober tool for characterizing quantum proces Read more…

By John Russell

On the Spack Track @SC19

December 5, 2019

At the annual supercomputing conference, SC19 in Denver, Colorado, there were Spack events each day of the conference. As a reflection of its grassroots heritage, nine sessions were planned by more than a dozen thought leaders from seven organizations, including three U.S. national Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories and Sylabs... Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake

Intel’s New Hyderabad Design Center Targets Exascale Era Technologies

December 3, 2019

Intel's Raja Koduri was in India this week to help launch a new 300,000 square foot design and engineering center in Hyderabad, which will focus on advanced com Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Debuts 7nm 2nd-Gen Graviton Arm Processor

December 3, 2019

The “x86 Big Bang,” in which market dominance of the venerable Intel CPU has exploded into fragments of processor options suited to varying workloads, has n Read more…

By Doug Black

Ride on the Wild Side – Squyres SC19 Mars Rovers Keynote

December 2, 2019

Reminding us of the deep and enabling connection between HPC and modern science is an important part of the SC Conference mission. And yes, HPC is a science its Read more…

By John Russell

NSCI Update – Adapting to a Changing Landscape

December 2, 2019

It was November of 2017 when we last visited the topic of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). As you will recall, the NSCI was started with an Executive Order (E.O. No. 13702), that was issued by President Obama in July of 2015 and was followed by a Strategic Plan that was released in July of 2016. The question for November of 2017... Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Tsinghua University Racks Up Its Ninth Student Cluster Championship Win at SC19

November 27, 2019

Tsinghua University has done it again. At SC19 last week, the eight-time gold medal-winner team took home the top prize in the 2019 Student Cluster Competition Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC19: IBM Changes Its HPC-AI Game Plan

November 25, 2019

It’s probably fair to say IBM is known for big bets. Summit supercomputer – a big win. Red Hat acquisition – looking like a big win. OpenPOWER and Power processors – jury’s out? At SC19, long-time IBMer Dave Turek sketched out a different kind of bet for Big Blue – a small ball strategy, if you’ll forgive the baseball analogy... Read more…

By John Russell

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first plann Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour


Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC19: Welcome to Denver

November 17, 2019

A significant swath of the HPC community has come to Denver for SC19, which began today (Sunday) with a rich technical program. As is customary, the ribbon cutt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cerebras to Supply DOE with Wafer-Scale AI Supercomputing Technology

September 17, 2019

Cerebras Systems, which debuted its wafer-scale AI silicon at Hot Chips last month, has entered into a multi-year partnership with Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as part of a larger collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Jensen Huang’s SC19 – Fast Cars, a Strong Arm, and Aiming for the Cloud(s)

November 20, 2019

We’ve come to expect Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s annual SC keynote to contain stunning graphics and lively bravado (with plenty of examples) in support of GPU Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This