Ok, I admit it, what I said in my previous post was wrong. There was singing at SC08. The conference included both a music room where attendees could perform and a music booth where one could lip sync to classic hits. Beyond singing, the conference broke all previous attendance records, with roughly 11,000 attendees, though I doubt singing had anything to do with that!
Clouds and Accelerators
"Cloud" was undoubtedly the buzz word of the conference. Like the word Grid in the past, cloud is now a tabula rasa on which research groups and companies are projecting their own definitions and spins. Somewhere, there's a Dennis Milleresque cultural reference lurking that invokes either Joni Mitchell
I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions i recall.
I really don't know clouds at all.
I said, Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Don't hang around 'cause two's a crowd
On my cloud, baby
In either case, I'm too tired to emit such a pithy aphorism.
On the hardware front, accelerators, notably GPUs, and solid state storage (SSDs) dominated the exhibit floor. NVIDIA was highly visible, and vendors large and small were demonstrating software tools for accelerator programming and for SSDs.
Microsoft broke into the top ten of the Top500 list of the world's fastest machines, based on execution of the high-performance Linpack (HPL) benchmark atop Windows HPC Server 2008. Like all Top500 runs, this required long hours by a dedicated team of people who pushed the hardware and themselves to the absolute limit. Everyone who has done this, and I remember it well from my NCSA days, knows that this is a caffeine and adrenalin-fueled, sleep deprivation process, wherever you happen to be.
I was also pleased that HPCWire awarded its Editor's Choice Award for best industry/government collaboration to the Microsoft/Intel Universal Parallel Programming Research Center (UPCRC) program, which involves the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and UC-Berkeley. Andrew Chien (Intel) and I are responsible for coordinating this program across the two companies and two universities.
First, one of the increasing challenges for HPL and the Top500 is the time required to complete the benchmark run. Given the scale of today's systems, regardless of hardware/software stack, the mean time before failure (MTBF) of these systems is roughly equal to the time to complete the HPL run. This alone makes benchmarking a rather stressful business.
Beyond that, at the time of benchmark runs, the hardware is normally very new, and component infant mortality is still common. Finally, one generally has only a single window to secure the highest position on the list, because new and even larger systems appear regularly. If you miss your target of opportunity for the June or November ranking, your system will slip several positions on the list.
Maybe I am unable to generate a pity aphorism for clouds, but I will close with an allusion to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Considering the challenges of multicore, exascale, multidisciplinary application software and reliability, one is inclined to remark, "The horror, the horror." We have serious work ahead.