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Food Prices and the Future of HPC in Europe

In this special guest feature, Tom Wilkie from Scientific Computing World mixes his metaphors while noting that a food shortage next July may starve European industry of talent further into the future.

studentsAirbus, the European aerospace company, makes more than airplanes. To its great credit, it is also making a future for European high-performance computing (HPC). It is the main sponsor of the student cluster competition at the European International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) and thus is a powerful force in generating awareness of, and interest in, HPC among the next generation of engineers and computer scientists.

Now, unless other European engineering and science-based companies join forces with Airbus in this initiative, something as mundane as food prices in Germany may affect the degree to which the Student Cluster Competition can continue to attract participants from across Europe, and beyond. (The overall winners in 2014 were a team from South Africa.)

The ISC is moving to Frankfurt in 2015, a change which has been almost universally welcomed, for even though the previous venue of Leipzig had an agreeable charm and attractiveness, considerations both of transport access and of the facilities available made it less suitable for an international conference and exhibition of the character of ISC.

But the law of unintended consequences is never far away. Frankfurt Messe is the third largest trade fair ground in the world, and ancillary services are priced accordingly. The students get hungry as they expend their enthusiasm in getting their clusters up and running and in devising clever ways in which to run application software efficiently. Humanely, the competition organizers have always ensured that the students do not have to worry about how they will eat, by laying on food for them at the event during the day. But the cost of catering at Frankfurt is way higher than that in Leipzig, and this price differential will have an impact on the number of students that the competition can support.

Airbus’s business depends on HPC – it has one of the biggest HPC installations in Europe and it is impossible to imagine an aeroplane these days being designed other than by using HPC. But HPC is not its business. Yet is it just about the only company in this situation that has stepped forward to sponsor the competition. Other companies that definitely are in the HPC business have been supporting the event. It is organized in collaboration with the HPC Advisory Council (HPCAC) and Mellanox plays a significant role in helping with the organization and coordination, at what must be a high cost in terms of staff time. Other HPC companies also provide support, for example by donating their hardware for the students to use.

But other European companies whose business depends on HPC have seemed reluctant to step forward and join Airbus in sponsorship. It would be ironic if literal lack of food led to metaphorical starvation of future talent for Europe’s science and engineering based industries.

This story appears here as part of a cross-publishing agreement with Scientific Computing World.

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