Keeping The Community Involved: SIGHPC

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John West

John West

Last year at SC11 the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) launched its latest Special Interest Group (SIG). The new group, SIGHPC, is aimed squarely at the high performance computing community. We talked with John West, one of the founding officers of SIGHPC and Director of the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Program, to get his view on what the new Special Interest Group is all about, how it’s doing since launch, and how this new organization will contribute to our community.

The Exascale Report: First off, can you tell our readers a little about SIGHPC and how it was started?

John West: SIGHPC really grew out of our community’s experience at the annual SC conference. SC provides an incredibly rich experience each year for attendees from all walks of HPC – from administrators and architects to students and teachers. And while the conference does have some elements that extend beyond the week of the show, these are managed as “special cases.” As the scope and influence of the conference has grown, its leaders found that they were missing a mechanism to engage with the international HPC community year round. This conversation evolved over a few years at the conference, culminating with a town hall meeting at SC10 to gauge interest and commitment for starting a new society.

That was an exciting meeting! The room was full of HPC professionals eager to volunteer their support for some sort of new community organization, and SIGHPC was well on its way to being born.

A small team of dedicated folks studied the best way to turn this potential into an organization, and eventually settled on the Special Interest Group structure within ACM. ACM is a large organization devoted exclusively to computation, is international, already a co-sponsor of the SC conference series, and permits individuals to join its SIGs without the much more expensive proposition of joining the home society. All in all, ACM is an excellent home for SIGHPC, and SIGGHPC is an excellent fit for ACM.

TER: What are some of the things you hope to accomplish with SIGHPC?

JW: Our mission is to help spread the use of HPC, help raise the standards of the profession, and help ensure a rich and rewarding career for people involved in the field. The common threads throughout the facets of our mission are a focus on student and professional education, career development, and on community.

Broadly speaking, SIGHPC will focus on disseminating interesting research and useful experiences by those using computing resources to tackle our society’s toughest problems; promoting the mentoring and education of the next generation of HPC professionals; and serving as a source of information about the field to the larger computing and scientific communities.

TER: Why did the founders decide now was the “right” time for SIGHPC?

JW: When the founders started getting together to talk about SIGHPC, everyone they talked with immediately “got it” – the need for an organization like this was just obvious. And this positive response has carried through in our early membership results: we surpassed our year 3 membership goals during launch week at SC11, and we currently stand at over 800 members (as of February 2012). This enthusiastic response is a strong validation that now is the right time, and SIGHPC is the right organization.

Thinking more broadly, those of us in the high performance computing community know the value our tools bring to those trying to innovate and to maintain a competitive edge. This is true for universities and businesses, and it is true for governments and countries. There is a significant push in today’s global fiscally restrained environment to not only do more with less, but to do it right the first time: HPC offers organizations of all types the opportunity to supplement their human-based, expertise-driven design processes with insights from incredibly complex numerical simulations. In recent years this perspective has resulted in advances by the Council on Competitiveness in the US and others abroad focused on improving the ability of small and medium-sized businesses to outperform their analog competition.

SIGHPC can serve as a focal point for the people side of those efforts, from engaging with students and sparking their interest in the field to providing a model path for the development of professionals throughout their career in computation-centric organizations.

TER: How can readers find out more?

JW: Any easy question! is the home base for everything going on right now within the group. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in the role that high performance computing plays in our society. The cost is $25 per year, and does not require membership in ACM.

Now is a great time to jump in to SIGHPC, since we are so early in our development. The most important thing we need as we grow this organization from an idea to an organizing force in our community is … you!

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  1. March-2012-guest says