Catching up with ISC 2021 Digital Program Chair Martin Schulz

By Susanne Vieser

June 16, 2021

Leibniz Research Centre (LRZ)’s content creator Susanne Vieser interviews ISC 2021 Digital Program Chair, Prof. Martin Schulz to gain an understanding of his ISC affiliation, which is outside his usual scope of work at the research center and the Technical University of Munich. 

“Shaping Tomorrow” is the slogan of ISC High Performance 2021. Like last year, the largest high performance computing (HPC) conference and exhibition in Europe will again take place virtually, from June 24 – July 2. For the second time, a director of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) has been appointed as the ISC program chair: after Prof. Dr. Arndt Bode, who held the post in 2015, Prof. Dr. Martin Schulz from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has now been given the role. Together with the program deputy Prof. Keren Bergman, Schulz has applied his knowledge of the domain and relationships with other experts to build a strong technical program.

“Our concern was to find speakers from all over the world to report on the latest technologies and trends on HPC, and to highlight future developments,” Schulz tells us. At ISC 2021, the focus will be on the systems and applications’ progress that enable the performance leap to exascale systems: “In the contributed program alone, 74 papers, 30 project posters and 23 workshops were submitted based on these developments,” Schulz remarks. 

Susanne Vieser: How does one become a program chair and what are your tasks?

Prof. Martin Schulz

Prof. Dr. Martin Schulz: In 2019, the ISC organizing team asked me if I would be willing to become the Program Chair for 2021 and help shape the conference program two years later. As a rule, one becomes a deputy  the previous year and first observes how everything is done. As Program Chair, I now work closely with the ISC team. Together with my deputy Keren Bergman, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University, I advise them on the crucial topics to absorb into the program as focus topics. We can set personal emphasis and coordinate with other chairs who, for example, are responsible for designing single sessions under each focus topic area, selection of research papers, posters, tutorials and workshops. Being program chair means teamwork, lots of discussion and coordination as we decide on the program elements collectively, find speakers and invite them to present.

Vieser: What topics will ISC 2021 focus on?

Susanne Vieser

Schulz: New technologies or “emerging technologies” is the overarching theme of the conference. This is also a topic very close to my personal interests, that I represent as the Chair of Computer Architectures and Parallel Systems at TUM and as Director at the LRZ. The ISC technical program is made up of the Contributed Program, i.e. a wide variety of contributions from the HPC community, and the Invited Program, which involves exclusive talks given by hand-picked speakers. In this Invited Program we deal with system architectures, technologies for supercomputing, performance issues and the combination with artificial intelligence methods. My colleague Hans-Joachim Bungartz, Professor of Scientific Computing at TUM, has compiled the session and speakers on new applications and algorithms, and Keren Bergman has compiled the talks on emerging technologies.

Vieser: Which of your qualities are particularly in demand for the position of a program chair?

Schulz: As a program chair, one needs to be familiar with the HPC topics and also be able to build on a wide network. Before I became Deputy Chair last year, I was already involved in the ISC Steering Committee which acts as the ISC Advisory Board. I also had the role as the PhD Forum Chair, Session Chair and speaker. So I have gone full circle by taking on various roles at ISC. The ISC team looks for a Program Chair familiar with the event and the philosophy behind the event and one who doesn’t require a full introduction to the conference. 

What was particularly important to you this year in the selection of content and speakers?

Schulz: Our concern was to find speakers from all over the world who have not yet been heard of in this community, and to discover topics that are new and exciting – some of which have yet to be published. In HPC, we are on the verge of the next leap in performance and in preparations for systems that work in the exascale range, i.e. that process trillions of computing operations per second. And that still poses many questions about architecture, technology and processes. For comparison: the SuperMUC-NG, with its 311,000 computing cores, manages 26.9 quadrillion computing operations. Among other things, the technical sessions at ISC will be on new types of accelerators, quantum processors, as well as new algorithms and system software, all of which contribute to increasing performance.

What criteria did you use to make your selection?

Schulz: For the Contributed Program, ISC relies on a rigorous and professionally managed peer-review selection process by scientists appointed to review the papers. This ensures that the best papers from the HPC community are selected to match the academic expectations attendees have. As for the Invited Program, the talks need to resonate longer and provide long-term guidance, and of course the quality of the presentation also counts.

How much work does the ISC Program Chair undertake?

Schulz: It adds up, of course, but fortunately it’s not a full-time job, unlike the SC in the USA, where the general chair is also responsible for the entire organization. At the ISC, you are not on your own and the entire logistics is managed by the ISC team. This team is very organized, experienced, well-coordinated and supports me in every step of the way. But sure, there is a lot to do and tune, especially now just before the conference.

What does the task mean to you?

Schulz: It is an honor to be selected as the ISC Program Chair. In the history of the ISC, there haven’t been that many Chairs – only since 2015 after the conference started to strongly involve academics like me. I like doing it because it’s about community exchange and ISC is a nice event. Of course it is also about visibility – the ISC is normally attended by 3,000 to 4,000 people. The HPC community is not big, it’s almost like a family, and within it I am now briefly taking on this leading role. 

What are your tasks from June 24 to July 2?

Schulz: It’s a digital event, so it’s nice that I can see a lot myself. It’s a pity that I won‘t be meeting anyone in person, but I look forward to networking digitally through this new event platform ISC is hosted on. The ISC team has acquired this platform to offer a better engagement experience and I am told this will be the best virtual networking the community has experienced so far. Besides that I am preparing now for the opening session, which will be filmed. In it, I will welcome the audience, introduce the keynote speaker Prof. Xiaoxiang Zhu and moderate the session. If everything goes well, I can watch it on demand  afterwards. But I’ll probably be filled with adrenaline from making sure everything runs smoothly. If ISC were to be held in Frankfurt, I’d be physically running around more, representing LRZ, TUM and ISC socializing and working with the teams.

What is your personal highlight in the program?

Schulz: The whole program is interesting, there will be many amazing talks, especially as the academic involvement is very strong in this year’s program. I’m really looking forward to that. The winners of the PRACE Ada Lovelace Award from this and last year, Dr Céline Merlet from Toulouse and Dr Alice-Agnes Gabriel from Munich, will present their projects, which is a new addition to the program. And I am also looking forward to the conference keynote by Prof Zhu from TUM – she will describe how machine learning algorithms and deep learning, exploratory signal processing and compressive sensing enrich and improve the analysis of Big Data in supercomputing using the example of Earth observation data – a very current and exciting topic.

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