The big supercomputing conferences
ISC 2012 (June 17-21, Hamburg, Germany) | SC 2012 (November 10-16, Salt Lake City, USA)
The two big all-in-one supercomputing events of the year are the annual Supercomputing conference, colloquially known as SC, held in each November in the USA, and the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC), held each June in Germany.
ISC offers a large technical programme, an educational programme and a huge exhibition. As well as the official conference, there is a whole side conference taking place in the surrounding hotels, as vendors run non-stop briefings for key customers, and the heads of supercomputer centres assess the market. There is no single bigger week in the HPC calendar.
ISC is similar to SC, just a little smaller, with about 2,000 attendees as opposed to about 10,000. But some people think ISC is a friendlier event because of its smaller size and different type of location. Certainly the potential for ad hoc networking is very good, as opposed to the aggressively planned networking at SC.
Networking and case studies
Then there are the smaller workshops, typically with 100 to 200 attendees, which place a greater focus on networking opportunities and presenting case studies, along with updates from major HPC users, national labs and vendors.
Of these types of event, the two that stand out for me are the IDC HPC User Forum, hosted twice a year in the US, and the HPCC USA conference held in Newport, Rhode Island each March, also known as the Newport event. If using or managing HPC is your main role, then these two workshops are great for finding out what similar organisations are doing, and to pick up tips and ideas.
For those new to HPC, perhaps considering buying your first large cluster or formalising HPC as an activity in your organisation, then these two events are approachable and much less daunting than the large SC and ISC conferences.
At the other end of the spectrum are those conferences that are predominantly about the technical programme, such as the SIAM Parallel Processing or CSE conferences. These are great for career development if you are involved in research into HPC technology, a programmer of HPC systems, or a scientist making regular use of HPC.
Finally, there are the workshops that are niche nuggets. These are smaller workshops that centre on a specific theme. If that theme or the resulting audience is relevant to you, then these can be very productive events. These are often organised by national labs, major HPC centres, or groupings of end-users.
They may be focused on an industry - for example, aerospace or oil and gas - or technology, such as many-core computing or exascale software challenges. These workshops bring together users in a given field to discuss how to do HPC better, or to learn about the challenges and opportunities coming from future HPC technology.
If your favourite conference is missing then I would be interested to hear about it.