HPC veteran Debra Goldfarb was tapped to lead HPC products and strategy at Amazon Web Services (AWS) last October after nearly ten years at Intel, where she directed HPC and datacenter strategy and was an Intel Fellow. She previously held executive roles at Microsoft, IBM, IDC and Tabor Communications (publisher of HPCwire). Our exclusive interview with Goldfarb, conducted by email in April, covers her mission at AWS, HPC/AI synergies, and the biggest trends in HPC.
Congratulations on being named a 2021 HPCwire Person to Watch, and congrats on joining Amazon! Tell us about your role at AWS, your areas of responsibility; what is most challenging and most rewarding?
Thank you for the honor.
We are a customer obsessed company, and in the spirit of that philosophy, my role is to listen deeply to our customers and make sure we build the best tools to enable them to exceed their goals. At the same time, we think we have a unique opportunity to cloudify HPC and redefine how the world does technical computing and HPC in a modern way.
Most challenging – This is an industry which moves fast and slow simultaneously. It is critical that we deeply internalize those dynamics and help our customers wherever they are in their journey.
Most rewarding – I have spent over 30 years trying to democratize HPC and technical computing. I believe AWS will make that a reality.
AWS was an early leading innovator in providing HPC cycles and services in the cloud. Now that HPC cloud is more established (and more competitive), what is AWS’s differentiation as an HPC provider?
We see lots of growth in traditional HPC industries and workloads, along with those infused with AI and with emerging, born-in-the-cloud organizations across a broad set of segments. Our focus is to expand our technology and service portfolio, breadth and depth of capacity, usability, and provide market-leading price performance through our own AWS-designed, Arm-based, Graviton2 processors.
How do you see the relationship between HPC and AI, both broadly and more specifically at AWS?
There is a lot of noise about the convergence of AI and HPC – but it seems to miss the point. It’s really about a growing set of capabilities and requirements as well as evolving methods and techniques. HPC is changing due to the influence of new methodologies – such as deep learning – which are accelerating and deepening insights in science, engineering, and analytics in every industry we serve, from Healthcare and Life Sciences and Agriculture to Engineering, EDA, and Investment Banking. AI is not a replacement for, but rather a complement to, traditional simulation and modeling and is enabling scientists, researchers, engineers, and analysts to more profoundly comprehend the world around them. It is helping them make better and more informed decisions and catalyzing new ideas and capabilities. Obviously, massive data coming off of devices and systems is a key element. But equally important is how HPC affects and influences AI. As models grow in scale and complexity, HPC infrastructure becomes increasingly important both to power the computational requirements and to also provide the analysis around provenance and transparency of trained models and their data.
Generally speaking, what trends and/or technologies in high-performance computing (and related fields, such as AI) do you see as particularly relevant for the next five years?
We are deep into a renaissance across just about everything we knew to be true in the past. Individually, these trends are important – but their collective impact cannot be overstated. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how COVID is one of the most important overarching trends we are experiencing. While its long-term impact is still unknown, what I can say with certainty is that the role HPC will play in everything from global public health and climate change to food security and cyber terrorism will increase significantly.
There seems to be no stopping the pace of innovation and diversification across the silicon and accelerator networks. It’s exciting. This is so much bigger than workload optimization (which by the way is also an important trend), and more about a fundamental redefinition of the underlying computational infrastructure and systems design. The influence of cloud native technologies, massive scale, software defined and disaggregation are having a profound affect well beyond the Cloud platform suppliers, shaping customers and technology providers across all segments.
As I mentioned above, AI is a mega trend which will affect every industry in myriad ways, but I would also add other novel technologies such as neuromorphic and quantum to that conversation. While QC is early, we are already seeing very interesting results, even with NISQ systems.
Equally important, is how and where we compute. The Cloud will have the most significant long term impact on HPC and technical computing segments. It changes the economics and scale, opening up limitless possibilities. Today most cloud usage is lift and shift. But, over time, through leveraging cloud native technologies, the opportunity to reimagine dramatically new ways to solve problems will catalyze all sorts of innovation. It is literally like a perfect storm. It’s fun. It’s why I joined AWS.
Outside the professional sphere, what activities, hobbies or travel destinations do you enjoy in your free time?
Family is everything. COVID has really put a fine point on that. We love the outdoors – hiking, skiing, and enjoying Martha’s Vineyard (one of our favorite places). And of course food – love to cook.
Debra Goldfarb is one of 14 HPCwire People to Watch for 2021. You can read the interviews with the other honorees at this link.