ISC11 Review

Several of NAG's staff attended the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Hamburg, Germany last week. We took part in several aspects of the show ("Talk to us in Hamburg"). I also posted a ISC11 preview with comments on I would be looking out for. So, what were my impressions after the show?

First, as ever, ISC is a (the?) great mid-season HPC event - breathing renewed life into the HPC community half-way around the world and half-way around the year from the biggest show of the HPC calandar ("SC" in USA each November).

In my preview, I said I was watching out for three battles:

GPU vs MIC vs Fusion The fight for top voice in manycore/GPU world will be one interesting theme of ISC11. Will this be the year that the GPU/manycore theme really means more than just NVidia and CUDA? AMD has opened the lid on Fusion in recent weeks and has sparked some real interest. Intel's MIC (or Knights) is probably set for some profile at ISC11 now the Knights Ferry program has been running a while. How will NVidia react to no longer being the loudest (only?) noise in GPU/manycore land? Or will NVidia's early momentum carry through?
Review: None of this is definitive, but my gut reaction is that MIC won this battle. GPU lost. Fusion didn't play again. My feeling from talking to attendees was that MIC was second only to the K story, in terms of what people were talking about (and asking NAG - as collaborators in the MIC programme - what we thought). Partly because of the MIC hype, and the K success (performance and power efficient without GPUs), GPUs took a quieter role than recent years. Fusion, disappointingly, once again seemed to have a quiet time in terms of people talking about it (or not). Result? As I thought, manycore is now realistically meaning more than just NVidia/CUDA.

Exascale vs Desktop HPC Both the exascale vision/race/distraction (select according to your preference) and the promise of desktop HPC (personal supercomputing?) have space on the agenda and exhibit floor at ISC11. Which will be the defining scale of the show? Will most attendees be discussing exascale and the research/development challenges to get there? Or will the hopes and constraints of "HPC for the masses" have people talking in the aisles? Will the lone voices trying to link the two extremes be heard? (technology trickle down, market solutions to efficient parallel programming etc.) What about the "missing middle"?
Review: Exascale won this one hands down, I think. Some lone voices still tried to talk about desktop HPC, missing middles, mass usage of HPC and so-on. But exascale got the hype again (not necessarily wrong for one of the year's primary "supercomputing" shows!)

Software vs Hardware The biggie for me. Will this be the year that software really gets as much attention as hardware? Will the challenges and opportunities of major applications renovation get the profile it deserves? Will people just continue to say "and software too". Or will the debate - and actions - start to follow? The themes above might (should) help drive this (porting to GPU, new algorithms for manycore, new paradigms for exascale, etc). Will people trying to understand where to focus their budget get answers? Balance of hardware vs software development vs new skills? Balance of "protect legacy investment" against opportunity of fresh look at applications?
Review: Hardware still got more attention than software. Top500, MIC, etc. Although ease-of-programming for MIC was a common question too. I did miss lots of talks, so perhaps there was more there focusing on applications and software challenges than I caught. But the chat in the corridors was still hardware dominated I thought.

The rest? What have I not listed? National flag waving. I'm not sure I will be watching too closely whether USA, Japan, China, Russia or Europe get the most [systems|petaflops|press releases|whatever]. Nor the issue of cloud vs traditional HPC. I'm not saying those two don't matter. But I am guessing the three topics above will have more impact on the lives of HPC users and technology developers - both next week and for the next year once back at work.
Review: Well, I got those two wrong! Flags were out in force, with Japan (K, Fujitsu, Top500, etc) and France (Bull keynote) waving strongly among others. And clouds were seemingly the question to be asked at every panel! But in a way, I was still right - flags and clouds do matter and will get people talking - but I maintain that manycore, exascale vs desktop, and the desperation of software all matter more.

What did you learn? What stood out for you? Please add your comments and thoughts below ...


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