Interview: Tutorials on Hybrid Programming and More Coming to ISC’12

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HPC Tutorials are one of the highlights of the annual International Supercomputing Conference. To learn what’s in store for ISC’12, I caught up with the man behind the curtain, Pavan Balaji from Argonne National Labs.

insideHPC: I heard that you did a fantastic job of bringing together speakers for the tutorials this year at ISC’12. What are some of the featured topics this year?

Pavan Balaji: Thank you. ISC has always attracted excellent speakers from academia and industry, who are willing to share their knowledge on a variety of supercomputing related topics with attendees from all over the world. This year is no different. We are featuring 12 tutorials—two full day and 10 half day.

Some of these tutorials are our traditional attendee-attractors, such as the ones on CUDA, InfiniBand, MPI/OpenMP, Dense linear algebra, large-scale debugging, and large-scale visualization. These tutorials have historically attracted many attendees. As the topics evolve in newer and interesting directions, and with the natural rotation of the attendee mix, we try to continue inviting speakers on these topics, at least till our attendees tell our otherwise.

Together with these historically proven topics, we also invite a good number of new tutorial topics, based on upcoming “hot topics” in the field. This year, for the first time at ISC, we are featuring topics such as Dynamic extreme-scale parallel programming, Cloud computing, Cilk Plus, and Advanced MPI.

insideHPC: What kind of feedback have you gotten on past tutorial sessions? What are attendees looking for?

Pavan Balaji: We ask the ISC tutorial attendees to fill out a feedback form for the tutorials they attended, with information on what they liked about the tutorial, what they did not like, and whether they would themselves attend that tutorial again or recommend it to others to attend. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Not surprising, given that most of our presenters are renowned researchers and world-class speakers. But we also get some very good suggestions for improvements.

For instance, in the past, we have invited some tutorials focusing on theoretical aspects of power/energy. Our attendees immediately told us, in the feedback, that they would prefer a tutorial that is more practically oriented—they want to use what they learn immediately. For some tutorials, our attendees told us that they would prefer a small “hands-on” component together with the traditional class-room style presentation. Another “implicit feedback” that we record is the number of attendees in each tutorial. At ISC, attendees who register for tutorials get a “tutorial pass” which they can use to move between any of the offered tutorials. Thus, attendees automatically get attracted to more interesting tutorials while leaving behind less interesting ones.

Needless to say, we take all such feedback into consideration and continuously update the overall tutorial program as well as the focus and content of the tutorials every year, to give the attendees what they are looking for.

insideHPC: Hybrid programming seems to be a hot topic these days. What kinds of tutorials are in store in this area?

Pavan Balaji: Absolutely. More and more people seem to be interested in hybrid programming these days, especially with MPI combined with OpenMP and/or GPUs. This years program has a variety of tutorials on this topic including advanced MPI and CUDA/OpenACC, which will talk about their respective hybridization strategies and what new tips and tricks they have to offer to users. We also have an explicit hybrid programming tutorial with MPI/OpenMP, which was, in fact, one of the hot favorites last year.

insideHPC: Are the ISC tutorials just for advanced, grad-level types of students?

Pavan Balaji: No, not at all. We invite speakers who can teach topics at different complexity levels, ranging from beginner to intermediate to advanced levels, so there is something for everyone. We have tutorials aimed at graduate-level students, advanced developers, application scientists, and even managers who are trying to learn about what new technologies are available in the market. ISC attract a very diverse audience, and we want to make the tutorials fun and educational for everyone.

insideHPC: So when the tutorials are over, there is still four days of ISC conference to go. How do you spend the rest of the week?

Pavan Balaji: ISC has more than 2000 attendees. It’s the perfect place to meet every “Who’s Who” in supercomputing. Everyone attends ISC because every else attends ISC, and that is a perfect opportunity to schedule meetings, network on potential collaborations, and learn about the latest and greatest in supercomputing. And not to forget all the beautiful sites to visit in Hamburg. Even though I’ve been to Hamburg a few times before, there’s always more to see. The conference is too short to do all of this, so it’s going to be a hectic, but enjoyable, four days. I look forward to it.