Interview: Steve Conway on the Upcoming HPC User Forum–April 7-9

The HPC User Forum is an annual gathering for HPC professionals to discuss the many issues and topics surround the supercomputing world and to promote the interests of HPC users worldwide. With their next meeting coming up April 7-9 in Santa Fe, we sat down with Steve Conway, Vice President of IDC Research, to learn more.

insideHPC: Steve, please give me a little insight as to what the HPC User Forum is all about.

Steve Conway: At heart it’s a vendor-neutral user group that IDC formed in 1999 at the request of large government, academic and industrial HPC buyers. The goal is to discuss important trends, best practices and requirements that could be shared with the vendor community. The HPC User Forum is directed by an international steering committee made up of buyers.  They determine the technical agendas for the four meetings we organize each year, two in the U.S. and two in other countries. IDC operates the User Forum on behalf of the steering committee. Our 52nd meeting will be held April 5-7 in Santa Fe. A lot of organizations become official members of the HPC User Forum.  Membership includes the meetings, plus 25-plus IDC research documents per year and inquiry time with IDC HPC analysts. You can find out more at

imgresinsideHPC: Who comes to these events? Who’s your target audience?

Steve Conway: Attendance is open to anyone in the worldwide HPC community. Our U.S. meetings include prominent speakers from Europe and Asia, and vice versa.  Many attendees belong to organizations that are HPC User Forum members, but non-members also participate.  We typically have 110-120 attendees and more than $1 billion in purchasing power in the room. Job titles of attendees are all over the map because they’re coming to get a fire hose of information that isn’t discipline-specific or job function-specific.  Each meeting focuses hard on two or three hot topics but also covers a range of other things.

insideHPC: How did the User Forum come about? What’s the history here?

Steve Conway: As I said, large buyers pushed IDC to start the HPC User Forum in 1999. Earl Joseph and I, who both represent IDC as non-voting members of the steering committee, were there at the beginning. So was Debra Goldfarb, who was with IDC then and is now at Intel. She played a major role in getting the User Forum going.

insideHPC: Is there a particular focus at the event this year?

Steve Conway: The main topics for our April 7-9 meeting in Santa Fe are industrial partnerships with large HPC centers and how they’re working, with perspectives from the U.S., France and the UK. We’ll also take another hard look at what’s happening with processors, coprocessors and accelerators and at potential disruptive technologies, as well as zeroing in on the HPC storage market and trends and the CORAL procurement that involves Oak Ridge, Argonne and Livermore.  On July 16, RIKEN will host an HPC User Forum meeting that will focus on HPC technology and market developments in Japan and Asia, including big data.  We head to Seattle in September to look in detail, among other topics, at where coprocessors and accelerators are making a difference, down to which subroutines. And in early October we’ll head to Germany again for a meeting at HLRS in Stuttgart and another location that’s not finalized yet.

insideHPC: The keynote at this events is always an exciting part of the conference. Who and what is on the agenda as far as this goes?

Steve Conway: We usually have multiple keynotes. Buddy Bland from Oak Ridge will give the CORAL talk and we have a great lineup of speakers from industry, government and academia.  I expect our panels will have some firebrands on them, as usual.

insideHPC: The User Forum has a pretty faithful following. What makes it so popular?

Steve Conway: We’re not afraid of controversial topics, for one thing. For another, vendors are crucial participants but the agenda is driven from the standpoint of buyers and users. Attendees don’t get marketed to a whole lot. In almost all cases, the invited vendor talks are technical talks. We deliberately keep the attendance limited enough to encourage active participation and lots of side discussions during the breaks and meal times.

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