Supercomputing conferences in the UK and USA
12 Feb 2020
- Marion O'Sullivan



November and December are the 'Supercomputing Conference' months and, true to form, the most recent conferences at the end of 2019 were very well attended and exceptionally busy.

SC19 at the Colorado Convention Center



​SC19 Denver

SC19 bear outside Colorado Convention CentreFirst up was SC19, hosted by the Colorado Convention Centre in Denver. Held every November in the US, this is the world's biggest conference for high performance computing, data and storage. It has been running for over 30 years and STFC's Scientific Computing Department (SCD) has been an active participant and exhibitor for around 22 of those years, so we have become old hands at this!

A record number of 13,950 people attended the 2019 SuperComputing conference and a great many of them found their way into the massive exhibition hall, housing more than 400 exhibitor booths. The UKRI-STFC booth was located at a busy 'crossroad' where two major walkways converged, so we were able to welcome large numbers of people into our booth for a chat about our science and the capability of our software and hardware infrastructure. Staff from three STFC departments – SCD, the Hartree Centre and the Digital Infrastructure Department - were present at the booth to talk to delegates. Many new collaborations were forged and many fruitful meetings were held over a cup of English tea.

This year we presented two models on the booth – an impressive Ceph cluster, purpose-built by SCD staff to demonstrate how we useMini Ceph-cluster (Wolfi) demonstration erasure coding to protect the vast quantities of data coming from the Large Hadron Mini Ceph-cluster (Wolfi)Collider at CERN; and a Raspberry Pi cluster from the Hartree Centre to demonstrate how a supercomputer communicates across networks to execute parallel programs.  The mini-Ceph cluster, affectionately named 'Wolfi' after the world's smallest cephalophile octopus, was particularly popular as its 12 nodes, each a Raspberry Pi mini- computer with colourful flashing lights and solid state drive, encouraged people to come and ask more about it.

Lego style model of rack from Scafell Pike supercomputerThe Hartree Centre's limited edition LEGO-style model of a rack from its Scafell Pike supercomputer also proved extremely popular with delegates, and the giveaway provided an ideal opportunity for people to hear about the powerful full-size version of the supercomputing platform located here in the UK.

Away from the booth, STFC staff were involved in talks and tutorials in the conference technical programme, and several were sought-out for their expertise and invited to participate in workshops and panel sessions. Meetings were held with key vendors and with other European HPC users. Discussions were carried out in relation to the latest strategic research agendas for a number of European and US initiatives. New relationships were forged, and time was taken to reconnect with friends and colleagues from other research or academic organisations.

Charles Moulinec and Guido Guintoli presenting poster.SCD's Charles Moulinec and his colleague Guido Guintoli from the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre presented a poster that they and other research colleagues had submitted for the SC19 Conference, and which had been accepted for display.  The poster demonstrated code coupling designed to solve large scale and realistic composite material problems for the aircraft industry. 

At least one of our team joined the conference's Experimental Network Team, deploying GEANT Test Bed Service experimental virtual circuits and virtualised high performance SDN switching resources for showcasing at the conference. And all of us took between 10,000 – 20,000 steps every day, just networking!

There were a few opportunities to take time out and chill after the long conference days. We enjoyed some good food and some great company, occasionally a little solitude with a drive into the snow-capped Rockies, shopping and some sight-seeing in Denver itself.  Digital Infrastructure's Andrew Forrester recalls arriving for his well-earned tour of the Denver Broncos Stadium. “With wind-chill it was minus eight degrees C and it must have the biggest car park in the US - it took me 15 minutes just to walk across it!"

The SC20 Conference is being hosted in Atlanta, Georgia. We are already making plans for the UKRI-STFC booth and we look forward to meeting old friends and new when we get there.

SC19 group photo in front of boothSTFC SC19 booth

Computing Insight UK – fast-becoming the UK's premier 'supercomputing' conference

Hot on the heels of the US conference came the UK's annual HPC and Big Data Conference, Computing Insight UK (CIUK) 2019, on 5-CIUK19 entrance6 December. This conference is a real home-grown event as it is organised and produced by STFC's Scientific Computing Department (SCD) and held at the Manchester Central conference venue each December.

Although CIUK has been running for only a few years in its present form, it started life almost 30 years ago as a very popular Machine Engineering Workshop where delegates could find out all about the latest computing technologies and learn how to use them. Delegates at CIUK can still find out about the latest technologies and share knowledge and experiences through the technical talks and vendor workshops, through the research and industry exhibits, and through the many networking opportunities the conference provides.

 Booths at Daresbury Lab CIUK 2019 was our most successful conference to date, attracting around 400 ""delegates and over 50 exhibitors. For the first time we included a 'Research Zone' in the exhibition hall where academic and research centres could demonstrate the outcomes and potential of research projects that use HPC hardware and storage systems. This delighted some of our delegates who were keen to find out more about facilities like the national supercomputing service ARCHER, the JASMIN 'super-data computer' and DiRAC (Distributed Research Utilizing Advance Computing) which had expert staff on hand to explain the relationship between the researchers and the machines they rely on for their work.

The conference theme was 'Computing the Future' with a sub-theme for each of the two days. Day one focused on computing today, with talks and presentations on Cloud Computing, Software Development, and Data Science – the convergence of AI and HPC. Day two looked to the future with sessions including Hardware Towards Exascale, Software Development Towards Exascale and Quantum Computing. 

Earlier in 2019 we received the very sad and unexpected news that Dr Jacky Pallas, one of the most active and vocal members of our Jacky Pallas award winnerCIUK Scientific Advisory Committee, had suddenly passed away. In celebration of her life, her work as Head of e-Research at King's College, London, her passion for encouraging young people in science and the exceptional contribution she made to the CIUK Conference, we have introduced an annual award to highlight the work of an early-career researcher. The first Jacky Pallas Memorial Award was awarded to Demi Pink, a PhD student at Kings College London, for her work on 'the structure of lipid-based nanoparticles for drug delivery'.  Demi's prize also secured her a speaking slot at the CIUK Conference.  Jacky's partner, Rachel Dickenson, her sister Andrea and her niece Danielle, all attended for Demi's talk and for the award ceremony itself, which was performed by STFC's Chief Executive, Mark Thomson.

Our award-winning keynote speaker, Dr Debora Sijacki from the University of Cambridge unfortunately had to drop out due to unforeseen circumstances, but we were delighted and very grateful that Professor Mark Wilkinson from DiRAC, who has worked closely with Debora, was able to step in at the 11th hour to deliver the talk.

Jens Jensen virtual presentationAnother 'first' for CIUK was a talk delivered remotely by one of our speakers who had been injured in an accident and was unable to travel.  The absence of an actual person on the stage was of no consequence to the audience who packed into the conference room for SCD's Jens Jensen's presentation about the development of an app which includes cloud-based Machine Learning, to assist travellers at airports.

Something new for CIUK 2020 at the end of this year ​is the CIUK Student Cluster Challenge. Teams of students will compete to build a working HPC cluster and run a set of benchmark codes for both simulations and AI workflows. The winning team will go forward to compete in the International Supercomputing Student Cluster Challenge in Frankfurt in 2021.

CIUK 2020 will be held at Manchester Central on 3-4 December 2020. We look forward to seeing you there!

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