A group to call our own: the Society of HPC Professionals

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With the exception of a few focused degree programs in computational engineering and some certificate programs in HPC, there really isn’t a lot of structure to the supercomputing community. In part this is a result of where we came from: the people who have really pushed the boundaries of our community have historically been practitioners of other disciplines trying to solve really hard problems with the technology they had available to them. Thus the CFD’er becomes an HPC’er in order to solve the problem she is tackling, and the HPC community accretes another member. As HPC and supercomputing become ever more specialized and complex, however, there is a growing need to share information, best practices, and everyday experiences related to running, using, and building supercomputers as a discipline unto itself.

I first ran into a note about the Society of HPC Professionals on LinkedIn in a post by Bill Menger. It turns out that Bill is serving as president of the new organization, and is one of the forces behind its formation. After we exchanged a few emails, Bill agreed to answer a few questions about the Society for insideHPC’s readers.

insideHPC: You are one of the forces behind the formation of the Society of HPC Professionals. If you had to pick a single major thrust that the Society is designed to address, what would it be? Education? Networking? Something else?

Bill Menger: The single thrust is “user groups.” We are looking to meet a need we’ve heard discussed but never seen anyone meet. We will include education, industry participation, etc., but our primary focus is to help the users of HPC. Also included are the system administrators, directors of operations, etc. They need a SIG (special interest group) as well! We want to partner with Universities and other Educational institutions to help them in training for real needs. There is a lot that can be done in a variety of areas.

iHPC: Where did the idea come from?

Bill: For about 3 years, the SEG (Society of Exploration Geophysicists) has included an HPC Workshop as an add-on at the end of its annual international meeting.  Some acquaintances of mine organized that event, including Keith Gray at BP, Chap Wong at Chevron, and Ebb Pye at Pye Associates.  Also each year for the past few years, Jan Odegard at Rice University has held an “HPC Oil and Gas Workshop” in the spring. I have attended most of these meetings and was involved with the HPC community in Oil and Gas since my job at the time was to direct the HPC for ConocoPhillips.

After organizing several popular breakfast meetings about HPC for the benefit of my peers in the oil companies, word got around and two of the SEG Workshop organizers asked me to have breakfast with them. We met at IHOP and they (Ebb Pye and Gary Crouse) told me that there was a lot of interest in some kind of user group for HPC, and that the interest had been there for a couple of years. What had been discussed, but never acted on, was the formation of a user group. They suggested that I consider forming a group that could create Special Interest Groups (SIGS) for the myriad of topics in HPC that people were coming to the workshops to learn about. They also suggested that if I did it right, there were sponsoring companies who were interested in seeing more organized groups of users who could help communicate needs to them and help them organize their products and services.

I had a passion to see us bring in the new crop of scientists and computer geeks and train them in HPC, so I presented this concept (formation of a non-profit) at my next HPC breakfast meeting, and a subset of that group agreed to be on this committee, which turned into the board of directors of the Society of HPC Professionals. We incorporated as a Texas non-profit and patterned our bylaws so that we can apply for 501-c(6) status as a tax-exempt professional society sometime this year.

We’re planning to hold our first open meeting in late April of this year, and we are holding a sponsorship meeting for members of the HPC ecosystem that may be interested in helping make this happen on the morning of Feb 3rd at the Unique Digital, Inc. headquarters in Houston.

iHPC: The society is growing out of the oil and gas industry HPC user base. Are you going to stay focused on this community, or are you going to welcome members from all communities that use HPC?

Bill: Yes we are coming from oil and gas, but we deliberately set out to be an HPC society for everyone. Our incorporation documents and bylaws allow us to span geographically and cross-industry.

Our goal is to form a society that encompasses all flavors of users, and to create special interest groups (SIG), focus groups, and round-table discussions that target the specific types of user. Our April meeting will explore 5 or 6 areas of interest and we’ll be having audience discussions on each major topic, with one open session for additional topics. For instance, there is a need for the scientist-as-programmer group to get together and a) discuss ideas, b) learn how to “do” programming correctly, c) learn optimization techniques, and d) find out about who provides services that can help them along.

iHPC: What are your expectations for the upcoming meeting on February 3rd and the April user meeting?

Bill: We are keeping the first meeting pretty small — we have only invited who we consider to be “potential early sponsors” of the society. Our goal for this meeting is to inform the commercial community (hardware and software and solutions providers) of what we are doing, and how we are different from other events such as the “HPC Workshop for Oil and Gas” at Rice University and the post-convention workshops at venues like the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. Companies that may be interested in sponsoring the Society can get more details, including venue and contact information, at the meeting website.

We are planning a “real” meeting in late April where we will invite the user community and solicit membership in the society. Once we get seed money to get the Society rolling, we’ll start communicating with our list of names; we have about 2500 people on our list so far, and readers who are interested in staying in touch with the Society as things get going can register at the Society’s website. Our kickoff meeting for the user community is planned late April, and we have two potential venues in Houston so far for that meeting.


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