Q&A with Google’s Bill Magro, an HPCwire Person to Watch in 2021

By HPCwire Editorial Team

June 11, 2021

Last Fall Bill Magro joined Google as CTO of HPC, a newly created position, after two decades at Intel, where he was responsible for the company’s HPC strategy. This interview was conducted by email at the beginning of April.

Hi Bill, congratulations on being named a 2021 HPCwire Person to Watch! You joined Google last year to lead their HPC strategy. Please give a brief overview of your role and what you’ve been working on.

Since joining, I’ve spent a fair amount of time simply discovering and learning. Google is a unique company, and I wanted to take the time to get to know its diverse products, technologies, and people. I’ve of course only begun to scratch the surface, but I now feel better equipped to understand the key challenges HPC users face with cloud and the opportunity that Google Cloud has to better serve the HPC community.

An important part of my role is to help drive Google Cloud’s HPC strategy and customer success, and I’m lucky to work with teams inside and beyond Google. I work closely with our product and engineering teams to ensure we have the right roadmap to address existing and emerging HPC use cases. I also spend time bringing HPC user perspective and requirements into the broader Google Cloud product portfolio. I collaborate with our partnership teams, to forge and deepen partnerships within the HPC ecosystem. And, of course, I spend a lot of time with customers, sharing our HPC vision and incorporating their feedback into our plans.

In the last few years, the tier one cloud providers have stepped up their adoption of HPC technologies (and talent!). Why is HPC important to Google, and what is Google Cloud’s differentiation as a provider of HPC in the cloud?

HPC’s impact in tackling the world’s most challenging problems is undeniable, yet it still remains available to relatively few. Google Cloud hopes to address that and bring the power of HPC to everyone via a simple, compatible, and open Cloud. We are focused on both the needs of today’s HPC workloads and on opening new horizons, via powerful Cloud capabilities, such as AI.

To meet the unique needs of HPC workloads, Google Cloud offers several specific machine types, such as compute-optimized instances, which have fixed virtual-to-physical core mapping and OS-visible NUMA architecture, critical to many HPC workloads. We also offer machine types tailored for memory-intensive HPC workloads and GPU-accelerated workloads. We have improved MPI scalability through tuned MPI libraries, HPC-optimized machine images, available 100 Gbps networking, and new placement policies that co-locate compute instances in your application or workload or a job.

Beyond infrastructure, we are making many open source contributions and forming key partnerships in the HPC ecosystem. Our goal is to simplify the deployment of compatible environments on Google Cloud, enabling hybrid HPC environments where applications and workloads run unmodified. We have a number of enhancements planned to make HPC even easier, faster, and more affordable.

It’s notable that Google Cloud is built on the same infrastructure and technologies that power Google’s globally available services, used by 1 billion+ users every day . The extreme demands of our services have driven innovations in scalability, availability, networking, and security that are now available to HPC users worldwide. Google’s private network is among the best, providing superior quality of service, end-to-end encryption, and low latency that enables teams to effectively and confidently collaborate around the world.

And, of course, Google Cloud is helping bring the power of AI to the HPC community.

How do you see the relationship between HPC and AI, both broadly and more specifically at Google?

I think it’s well understood that much of AI can be considered an HPC workload, in that it benefits from high-performance infrastructure. At the same time, AI is a powerful new tool for the HPC community, with scientists, engineers, and others seeking ways to apply AI to gain deeper insight into their HPC simulations, improve their productivity, and even directly accelerate simulations.

Google pioneered the popular TensorFlow machine-learning framework and has broad strengths in AI and analytics. We make these capabilities available, along with highly-tuned infrastructure, to HPC users via Google Cloud. We often hear that HPC users and even HPC centers don’t have a need for round-the-clock AI training. As such, specialized on-premise AI hardware can often lie underutilized. The cloud provides an ideal environment to implement HPC and AI, since the resources can be tailored to the workload, adjusting dynamically as the workflow progresses. With inexpensive cloud archival storage and automated lifecycle management, HPC users no longer face the difficult decision to discard large data sets that might yield future insights.

What new/emerging technologies are you most closely tracking? 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?

I was actually trained in quantum physics, so I have a keen interest in the fascinating and rapidly-advancing field of quantum computing. While it will likely be many years before the full power of quantum computing is realized, it is interesting to watch the near-term applications being developed. Now is also a good time to consider how quantum computers will be deployed and accessed. Much like supercomputers, I see quantum computers as specialized resources, available primarily through shared HPC centers or the public cloud.

Nearer term, I am watching the rapid advances in silicon packaging and interconnect technology. Just as these advances have allowed the integration of high-bandwidth DRAM on CPUs, I see the potential for new product classes that combine the strengths of CPUs, data-parallel accelerators, and networking. These could drive significant advances in both programmability and performance for HPC.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit cloud is an obvious and major trend on my mind. I see a future where the line between workstation and supercomputer disappears, with compute seamlessly scaling to address the problem at hand. We have the exciting opportunity to bring the power of HPC to a whole new class of users, propelling their productivity to new heights.

Outside the professional sphere, what activities, hobbies or travel destinations do you enjoy in your free time?

Outside of work, I enjoy skiing with friends, woodworking, and traveling with my wife, Lisa. We plan to visit Spain, Portugal, and France as soon as it’s safe.

Magro is one of 14 HPCwire People to Watch for 2021. You can read the interviews with the other honorees at this link.

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