Monday 9 November 2015

SC15 Preview

SC15 - the biggest get-together of the High Performance Computing (HPC) world - takes place next week in Austin, TX. Around 10,000 buyers, users, programmers, managers, business development people, funders, researchers, media, etc. will be there.

With a large technical program, an even larger exhibition, and plenty of associated workshops, product launches, user groups, etc., SC15 will dominate the world of HPC for a week, plus most of this week leading up to it. It is one of the best ways for HPC practitioners to share experiences, learn about the latest advances, and build collaborations and business relationships.

So, to wet your appetites, here is the @hpcnotes preview to SC15 - what I think might be the key topics, things to look out for, what not to miss, etc.

New supercomputers

It's always one of the aspects of SC that grabs the media and attendee attention the most. Which new biggest supercomputers will be announced? Will there be a new occupier of the No.1 spot on the Top500 list? Usually I have some idea of what new supercomputers are coming up before they are public, but this year I have no idea. My guess? No new No.1. A few new Top20 machines. So which one will win the news coverage?

New products

In spite of the community repeatedly acknowledging that the whole system is important - memory, interconnect, I/O, software, architecture, packaging, etc., judging by the media attention and informal conversations, we still seem to get most excited by the processors.

So will Intel make more announcements about Knights Landing? Intel's Knights Landing has been building up expectation up for some time, so the community is hoping for a real product to start using soon. Meanwhile, NVIDIA has been quietly (OK, not very quietly) getting on with making the idea of highly-parallel processors normal. Will NVIDIA add to this with a new GPU? Or CUDA updates? Will AMD smash back into HPC mindshare with CPU, GPU, or APUs? Will an ARM based processor take the limelight? Will [Open]POWER solutions be announced?

My best guess is that Intel will take the attention at SC15 with Knights Landing. But if they're not on top form, someone else, perhaps NVIDIA, perhaps ARM, will steal the show.


I'm always interested in the people at SC. Who has moved to new roles? Who is taking a leadership of certain issues or projects? We might hear some interesting news there I think. However, at SC15, I'm particularly looking forward to the increased attention (I hope) on two issues.

The first issue is the diversity theme, of which Women in HPC is probably the strongest activity, with several events lined up. The results of John West's call to action will be announced. The need to improve diversity in our community is real and I hope this topic emerges as one of the most positive conversations of SC15.

The second issue is probably lower profile for now, but is also important - the leadership position that the UK, and especially EPSRC, has taken in funding Research Software Engineer Fellowships - roles within academia whose purpose is to write software for research and support others to do this. Critically, they will be funded and measured on their ability to do their job, not on an unhelpful pseudo-metric like research papers. I look forward to other funding agencies around the world taking similar steps.


Clearly I am hoping that the unexpected highlight of SC15 will be the launch by NAG and Red Oak Consulting of our HPC Technology Intelligence Service. However, maybe that is too ambitious :-)

However, one of the great things about SC is the sheer breadth of activities and conversations. I'm sure something will pop up as a common conversation topic among the various networking receptions. Who will make the right observation to start a trend?


What new buzzwords will spring forth to replace #BigData, #Cloud, #GreenComputing, and all the others? I hope it will be "User-Centric" or "People Matter" or "Software Innovation", but I fear it will be #MachineLearning or #ExascaleReady.

Data vs. Compute

Will the increasing focus on big data related aspects of HPC continue to grow? I think so. But I hope and think there will be more attention on how the "traditional" HPC usage (simulations) and the big data needs can be integrated into workflows, into coherent system deployments, and even into integrated user services.


Of course, the fun starts before we even get to Austin. How many people on your plane form wherever will be HPC people? How many will you recognize? Will you be fighting for position in the airport queues with people you know? Certainly the only direct flight from the UK to Austin, BA191, will see a flood of HPC folk jostling to board on Saturday late-morning.

So that is my short run-though of thoughts ahead of SC15. I look forward to meeting colleagues, friends, business partners, and maybe even a few readers of my blogs in Austin. Wishing you all safe travels. See you there!

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