Q&A with Keren Bergman, ISC Program Chair, and an HPCwire Person to Watch in 2022

By HPCwire Editorial Team

April 20, 2022

ISC 2022 Program Chair Keren Bergman is the Charles Batchelor Professor at Columbia University where she also directs the Lightwave Research Laboratory. Our exclusive interview with Bergman covers her history with ISC with a focus on the event’s return to Hamburg, Germany, May 29-June 2, as well as her insights into the HPC landscape.

Congratulations on being the 2022 HPCwire Person to Watch as well as ISC 2022 Program Chair! It’s a big year for ISC, with the conference returning to an in-person event after two years of having a digital format. Could you tell us a bit about your history with the conference, and how you see its trajectory as we (hopefully) move toward a post-pandemic world?

Thank you, I am deeply honored! It is indeed a big year – ISC 2022 will be a tremendous opportunity for our HPC community to come together. We have learned over the past two years that technical progress certainly continues, but there is no substitute for in-person interactions. We all sorely miss seeing our friends and colleagues, exchanging new ideas, experiencing HPC advances first hand at the exhibition, connecting over shared meals, and engaging in the numerous networking opportunities.

My personal history with HPC began 25 years ago (hard to believe it’s been that long!) when I was fortunate to become part of a ‘moon shot’ project called HTMT to develop a Petaflops computer with a hybrid technology approach. Led by Thomas Sterling the project involved many HPC luminaries – Peter Kogge, Burton Smith, Larry Bergman, Paul Messina, Guang Gao, and Rick Stevens – making what was at the time a quantum leap in scalable architectures and taking a big bet on emerging ideas including – processing-in-memory, multi-threading, superconducting processors, and optical networking (my part). This is how I got ‘bit’ by the HPC bug. My research has been at the intersection of optics and computing ever since and I’ve been attending HPC conferences including SC and ISC since the early 2000s. Of course, ISC is the oldest and largest international conference on HPC in Europe.

ISC 2022 will be a hybrid conference – primarily in-person, but with digital content. Going forward, I am optimistic about our post-pandemic trajectory. From our two years of all-digital experience, we have learned quite a bit about what works (and what doesn’t), especially the services that most benefit and broaden our HPC community. ISC will continue to produce and develop digital content, in synergy with the in-person experience creating what I believe will be an even more successful conference series in the future.

What are you most looking forward to for ISC 2022? Is there anything new or extra-noteworthy you’d like to highlight in this year’s program? The conference is back in Hamburg after 10 years (last there in 2012). Could you share some of the highlights or special things about this venue and/or city?

We are now truly in the Exascale Era and ISC 2022 will feature some of the most exciting advances driving innovative system architectures, algorithms, programming, and applications. As we aim to define the ‘Road to Zetascale’ the invited program is designed to cover the most pressing challenges in machine learning and data analytics, as well as look into the future and emerging uses of quantum computing. ISC 2022 will be an opportunity for us to fully connect across our global community, as well as to recognize and celebrate numerous advances.

I am especially looking forward to our return to Hamburg. Being from New York City I love Hamburg’s big city vibe, walkable downtown, amazing architecture, and waterfront cafes. Of course, there is the not to be missed Planten und Blomen park – and weather wise our conference timing in late spring is hopefully ideal.

Can you give us a peek into your role as director of the Lightwave Research Laboratory? What is the focus of your work? What problems of silicon photonics do you work on? Would you briefly detail your some of your sponsored research projects? What advances and or breakthroughs in silicon advances should people know about?

My lab explores data movement in the optical domain for scaling computing performance and reducing energy consumption. We are developing a new class of silicon photonic interconnects integrated directly on-chip that are capable of “feeding” and “extracting” ultra-high communications bandwidths from the heterogeneous computing socket to anywhere in the system with extreme energy efficiencies. Our work makes use of 300mm wafer-scale silicon foundry fabrication. This is especially exciting because the research advances can be directly transitioned to commercial applications. Our photonic links build on novel integrated optical ‘comb’ lasers that can produce hundreds of unique wavelength channels with precise, intrinsic spacing. The data is encoded optically on each of the wavelengths to realize petabit-per-second “chip escape” communications while minimizing energy consumption to sub-pico-Joule/bit.

At the system level our work examines new architectural paradigms that can take advantage of photonic communications. With the explosive growth of data analytics applications, HPC system performance is particularly tied to data movement and its associated energy consumption. Our research is focused on disaggregated architecture where the photonic fabric offers a ‘no hop’ flexible high-bandwidth connectivity among compute and memory resources. The adaptable photonic interconnect fabric opens new possibilities in systems designs to meet diverse applications requirements. I am grateful to the funding agencies supporting this research that include multiple programs under ARPA-E, DARPA, DOE, and DOD. We work closely with and get supported by several industry partners.

Where do you see HPC headed? What trends – and in particular emerging trends – are you particularly excited or concerned about?

In the HPC community we are always driving toward the very top performance (by definition!). Not surprisingly we are the first to encounter the most critical challenges. This happened with energy consumption – 2022 is already the 10th anniversary of the ‘Green 500’ – while other computing platforms are just catching up. This trend is strongly accelerated by the growth in AI/ML applications, heterogeneous computing and the convergence of HPC and Data Centers. I am seeing a major shift toward embracing new technologies that help drive performance forward while reducing energy consumption. In my own area of photonics, commercial enterprises are beginning to include photonic interconnect technologies on their roadmaps. I cannot think of anything more exciting than to see research transform future systems.

Outside of the professional sphere, what can you tell us about yourself – family stories, unique hobbies, favorite places, etc.? Is there anything about you your colleagues might be surprised to learn?

I love sports of all kinds. In my youth I played soccer, but with injured knees I stick to running, biking, tennis, and skiing. I was born in Israel, and my first name ‘Keren’ is Hebrew for ‘a ray of light’ – so I like to think that my parents sort of foreshadowed my career.

Bergman is one of 12 HPCwire People to Watch for 2022. You can read the interviews with the other honorees at this link.

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