It's "supercomputing week," which means that almost everyone who can spell HPC and who can walk, drive, swim or fly will be in Austin, Texas during the week of November 16 for SC08. Drawing on my youth, there will be preaching (academic papers, vendor presentations and government meetings), singing (on second thought, maybe not – geeks are not best known for their performing arts ability) and an all day dinner on the grounds (receptions, parties and dinners). In short, it's the place to see and be seen, or perhaps not to be seen if you are spending all of your time in closed door meetings with vendors or government officials.
I have been attending SC (the conference formerly known as Supercomputing XY) since 1990. Sadly, I missed the first one in Florida, where Seymour Cray gave the opening keynote, and the second one in Reno, Nevada. It is interesting to reflect on how much the conference has changed over twenty years.
Remembering the Big Apple
In 1990, the conference was held in a New York hotel. The technical papers presentations were all in a single ballroom, and the small (and I do mean small) vendor booths and demonstrations were in a second, nearby ballroom. I have two particular memories of that 1990 event, beyond a long meeting about trace formats for parallel system performance analysis.
The first concerns the humble beginnings of academic research booth space. Unlike today's massive show floor, with academic and laboratory booths that rival those of major vendors, the research exhibit space consisted of two or three draped tables. I distinctly remember Jack Dongarra sitting at one of the tables with a SUN workstation, demonstrating linear algebra software.
My second memory of 1990 was the apparent disappearance of the Intel vendor booth. As I recall, the truck containing the Intel booth arrived at the hotel loading dock, to be met by a group of workers who assured the driver that hotel rules required them to unload the truck. The truck contents – Intel's booth – disappeared and were (to my knowledge) never seen again. (I always wondered what the thieves did with an exhibit booth. I suspect there were too unhappy groups that day, Intel and the people who absconded with the booth.) Intel did manage to create a very nice booth using some backup materials, however. Welcome to the Big Apple!
Experiencing New Mexico
In 1991, I was a member of the SC program committee, which was chaired by the late Ken Kennedy. That year, the conference was held in Albuquerque, NM, in the convention center, leading to substantial expansion of the scale and scope of the conference.
That year, I created a research booth (a massive 10'x10') space that highlighted the results of our DARPA-sponsored Pablo project and the performance measurement and visualization tools we were developing. I remember that we printed some black-and-white posters to stick on a backdrop and distributed "booth duty" among the group of students, staff and me (the professor).
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) occupied the equally spacious 10'x10' space next to my booth. I remember watching with fascination when the LLNL team arrived on Sunday with several sections of 8' PVC pipe, elbow connectors, and a hacksaw. They then built a frame for their booth. This was literally cutting edge technology from our national laboratories!
Looking Forward to Austin
As always, I am looking forward to the meeting. It is a chance to see old friends, make some new ones, trade rumors and stories, survey the evolution of technology and discuss the future. It will also be a new experience for me, as a member of Microsoft. Kyril Faenov and his team have accomplished some impressive things with Windows HPC Server 2008 and I look forward to seeing the discussion of clouds, multicore and the future of HPC services.
Coming full circle to Seymour Cray, this year, I was pleased to chair the IEEE Seymour Cray Award committee and select my old friend Steve Wallach as the honoree. The award will be presented at SC08. By the way, you might want to check out Steve's new venture – Convey (that's Convex plus one).
In addition to my usual random walk across the convention and exhibit floors, attending technical paper sessions, private meetings and participating in Microsoft events, I will be speaking at several events:
- "Designing Data Centers for Future Cloud Applications," at the Power Efficiency and the Path to Exascale Computing workshop, on Sunday, November 16
- "Will Electric Utilities Give Away Supercomputers with the Purchase of a Power Contract?" a panel on Wednesday, November 19
- "There Is No More Sequential Programming. Why Are We Still Teaching It?"" a parallel programming education at the Intel booth on Wednesday, November 19
Preaching, singing (well, maybe not) and dinner on the grounds – sounds like fun. I suspect there will a few margaritas and some barbeque consumed as well.