Standing room only for "Sustainable Computing" at CIUK 2022
02 Feb 2023
- Adam Grady



The first two days of December saw the return of STFC’s ever-popular flagship High Performance Computing Conference, Computing Insight UK (CIUK).




Held at the Manchester Central Convention Complex, the event had its most successful year to date, attracting over 500 attendees, a diverse range of exhibitors, guest speakers and industry professionals.

Scientific Computing's Director, Tom Griffin, said, “It's been fantastic to see so many people at CIUK this year… I think the theme of sustainable computing really attracted people, it's clearly a hot topic and it's great to see so many people talking about sustainability."

The overall theme of the conference in 2022 was “Sustainable HPC" and the first talk was from Pete Oliver, Scientific Computing's Head of Operations, who explained the many design considerations needed in developing an environmentally sustainable data centre for STFC.  His presentation encouraged so many delegates to attend, there was standing room only in the conference hall.

Many of the talks reflected the chosen theme, with the first three guest speakers giving presentations on the sustainability and environmental impact of their respective facilities. The theme was championed by the keynote speaker for the event, Professor Michelle Weiland (EPCC Research Institute, University of Edinburgh) who gave a thought-provoking presentation about the feasibility of Net Zero HPC systems. “Reducing scientific throughput is a false economy" she said, urging attendees to not just make their HPC systems more environmentally sustainable, but more efficient.

On day two, delegates were treated to an engaging talk from the winner of the Jacky Pallas Award, Dr Djenifer Kappel from the Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, Cardiff University.  Her current research is based on understanding how genetics can predispose people to psychiatric disorders and impact on their treatment and management, which she explained in her talk “The genomic basis for precision medicine in treatment-resistant schizophrenia." She was thrilled to win the award, named after the late Dr Jacky Pallas, who was a very active founding member of the CIUK Science Advisory Committee. Jacky helped to shape the direction the conference has taken and pushed through many positive changes, whilst championing diversity and the inclusion of young researchers.

As well as the programme of speakers in the main conference hall, there was a really good mix of interesting parallel sessions. On 1 December the breakout session room was host to the Computational Centre for Research Communities (CoSeC) annual conference, which also had a wide range of speakers. The presentations were split into three overarching categories, with speakers discussing their research in the areas of data science and machine learning; coupling and data workflows; and high performance/future computing. Many of the talks were delivered by Scientific Computing staff, including Stefano Rolfo and Jianping Meng who delivered the entire 'high performance and future computing' section of the programme; with an introduction to the day from CoSeC director Barbara Montanari, and a final wrap-up from Stephen Longshaw.

The second day saw a range of sessions in this breakout room, with CIUK hosting the first ever 'Women in HPC' networking breakfast and panel session. This was another highly successful part of the programme with some great interaction from the participants.  Cristin Merritt from Alces Flight led this session, which had around 60% of men and 40% women in the room. She was “delighted that the panel session actually turned into a really useful group discussion."  She and her colleagues are looking forward to helping people in terms of growing career prospects, skills development and more at future CIUK events.

The afternoon breakout room sessions were taken up with talks from the Spectrum Scale User Group, and a UKRI workshop on Energy Benchmarking on Heterogeneous Systems. Again, these sessions proved to be very popular with the conference delegates.

 Manchester Central was the venue for the final stages of the third CIUK Student Cluster Challenge. Six teams from universities around the country worked on a series of online challenges in the weeks running up to the conference, culminating in some final hands-on challenges during the two days of the conference. This year Durham University, who were the CIUK 2020 champions, once again achieved an overall first in the eight challenges, with one of the two teams from Bristol University coming in second place.

For many people this year's event was their first CIUK conference, including some exhibitors who made their first appearance at the event.  One of the team from the Centre of Advanced Research Computing at University College London explained that they provide professional services and are a research department at the same time. They are looking to grow their team so being at CIUK was very useful for them to advertise the various roles available – such as research software engineers and data scientists.   “Coming again, showcasing more of the work we do would be very good… It's been useful to have conversations with people, to share what we're doing and hopefully get some new colleagues to come and join us!" she said.

“I'm having a great time!" said Stuart Franks from Alces Flight, one of the regular exhibitors. “It seems to be the biggest CIUK so far, and there's been some great talks and interesting messages. Roll on CIUK 2023!"​

Contact: O'Sullivan, Marion (STFC,RAL,SC)