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An exclusive first look at SC10 with general chair Barry Hess

SC10 logoDuring the week of SC09, insideHPC grabbed a minute with Barry Hess, the general chair of SC10, to talk about this year’s conference. Barry is the Deputy Chief Information Officer at Sandia National Laboratories and brings decades of experience in technical computing to SC10, as well as a decade of service to the SCxy community. In this first interview of the SC season, we talk with Barry about what he and his committee have planned for us in New Orleans later this year.

insideHPC:Tell us about SC10: what’s going to be new and different about the conference this year?

Barry Hess: It will be different, but our goal is to keep the momentum going. It has been a very pleasant surprise that, even through the downturn in the economy during 2009, the conference kept its momentum with record attendance and a dynamic, enthusiastic crowd. Certainly our focus stays on the technical program, with the highest quality technical papers.

What will change next year is that we’ll have more space — we’ll have the largest amount of space we’ve ever had, in meeting rooms and in exhibit space. We’ll have 370,000 square feet of exhibit floor, about 70,000 more square feet than we had in Reno (our next biggest venue). A couple things happen when we have that much space. We can make more “islands” for the exhibitors — booths in which attendees can walk all the way around — which gives them more value in terms of visibility. Then we can also do some more creative things, like putting whisper suites right on the exhibit floor, which the exhibitors like. Then we can do more creative things inside the conference center to add more value for the attendees because of the space.

One of things that is special about SC is the communication that happens on the show floor between attendees and exhibitors, but also among the different types of exhibitors. Industry representatives are at the conference to sell their wares, the research groups are there to sell their intellectual property to the industry booths, and you get this great mix of everybody looking for connections with everybody else on the show floor. This is one of the things that makes this a unique conference — exhibitors can talk with customers, but also talk with companies or organizations of which they are customers, and everyone is in one place. And that is one of the things that keeps our attendance up, even in a tough economy. Everyone feels they get the right amount of value from coming here.

insideHPC: From your perspective, what is the heart of the conference?

Hess: The technical program drives everything. It’s the engine that creates opportunity for the exhibits. It’s what drives the value for the education program, and provides the funding for that. So really the technical program is the top thing you have to protect and enhance. You want everybody to go back home and say “Wow! That was the best conference,” and you want them to bring their peers back next year.

insideHPC: What are the thrust areas or areas of special emphasis for the 2010 conference?

Hess: There are three thrusts this year. You can’t go to New Orleans without looking at global climate change, and so climate modeling and all the technologies and software and work that’s being done in that area will be a strong area of emphasis for us. Heterogeneous computing is also an area we are paying special attention to in the SC10 program. And the third area is data intensive applications. That’s been an issue for a long time, but now it’s becoming a driving issue: how do you move large data around, how do you visualize it, and so on.

Those are the three thrusts that this year’s committee feels are really going to drive supercomputing on a national and international scale.

insideHPC: For SC09 there was a big focus on sustainability, and certainly both the technical program and Vice President Gore’s talk brought in the topics of climate change. Do you think this is something that we’ll see continue beyond SC10?

Hess: Definitely. We probably won’t solve the problem for years and years, but how we approach the issue will change over time, and so it will remain an interesting and timely topic for future SC conference.

Speaking generally, I’ve worked with the conference chairs over the past four years in developing thrusts for the conference, and we try to work together from year to year to make sure we don’t have abrupt changes. We will be taking the work that we’re seeing at SC09 and moving that forward to SC10. You’ll see that obviously with climate. With sustainability it won’t be a thrust for SC10, but it will just be part of how we run the business of the conference. Every chair builds on the shoulders of the past chairs, and each year builds on the successes and lessons of the years before.

insideHPC: Each year the conference pushes an area that is just on the cusp of emerging in the HPC community. For example, there were several events around efficient datacenter design during SC09, reflecting the shift in the community that was really just picking up speed during this year. What emerging issues will we see reflected in the SC10 program?

Hess: I think the edge in 2010 will be specifically around the heterogeneous architecture work that is going on. During SC09 the most heavily attended tutorial — in fact, they had to move to the ballroom — was the CUDA tutorial. Yesterday I saw clusters with Atom processors on the exhibit floor. People are really getting very creative as they struggle to create new supercomputers for a variety of new missions where HPC is starting to have a real impact. Areas like search, finance, and cybersecurity.

We are in a time period now where there are a lot of disruptions in technology and the programs, we’ve had a large change in government focus. It’s a very disruptive time, and we’re looking at what that means both to the HPC industry, and to the people that will need to use supercomputing in these new mission areas.

insideHPC:Tell me about you and your history with the conference. It’s a tremendous amount of work and an incredible commitment. Why do it?

Hess: I’ve been involved with the conference committees since 2000, and I was an attendee and exhibitor well before that, all the way back to 1996. My first job with the committee was signs in 2000. I took that job because it exposed me to all aspects of the conference. Being involved on the committee really allows you to build new connections, and strengthen existing connections, with the incredibly smart, incredibly talented people that are a part of this conference. And once you are a part of the committee you really begin to understand the value that the conference provides to the community, and you start to see volunteering on the committee as a service. My organization has been very supportive of my involvement, because they realize the value of this conference to the HPC community and they want to be a part of making sure that continues to happen.

insideHPC: Is getting involved with the SC committees something you would recommend for people just starting their careers, or do they need to be a little more “grown up?” Is it too late to get involved now for SC10?

Hess: We have people very far along in their careers. We have people after their careers, retired, that still come. We do have quite a few new, young people. And the steering committee encourages that as a way to bring in the next generation that will take over the conference tomorrow, and bring in a new perspective today.

It is a little too late to get involved with the SC10 committee, since we are just about 9 months from the conference. But there are opportunities on the SC11 and SC12 committees. If there is a particular area that someone would like to get involved with the call for participation has a listing of all the SC10 area chairs — just send an email to that person. And every part of the program has contact emails on the website. The SC10 chairs will pass your name onto the SC11 and SC12 chairs. Now is a great time to get involved for SC11 and SC12.

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