For ISC, It’s a Tale of Two Cities

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With ISC’12 fast approaching, I find myself marveling at the rapid growth of the International Supercomputing Conference.  And while this success is undoubtedly the result of consistent, determined work by Hans Meuer and family, I believe it also a reflection of our times—time of turmoil, revolution, and ultimately resurrection for high performance computing.

This will be the final year for ISC in Hamburg, and it doesn’t seem that long ago that the then-tiny conference was wrapping up one of its final shows in Dresden. It was 2007, and the exhibition hall could barely contain 90 booths from exhibits from around the world.

At the time, I was managing Sun’s booth and the company was making a big splash with the unveiling of Magnum, the world’s largest InfiniBand switch. And as you can see in the video here, the intimate venue in Dresden was just perfect for a champagne toast with conference attendees on opening night.


To many ISC attendees I’ve talked to, the smallness of the conference is one of its prime attractors, especially when you compare it to the big Supercomputing show in November.  At ISC, it’s easy to just run into the people you need to meet with along the course of the week.

Today, ISC has nearly doubled its numbers from 2007 to a whopping 175 exhibitors. That means more vendors, more staff, and potentially more to filter out in the signal-to-noise ratio for attendees. Going forward, I think one of the primary challenges for the ISC team will be preserving the intimacy of the conference as it continues to grow.

When we come to Hamburg for the last time in June, there may be more to consider than processors, interconnects, GPUs, and the race to Exascale. I think where we decide to go as a community is just as important. ISC will move to Leipzig and a convention center with much more space, space that will want to be filled.

There is much to be lost in times of rapid change. If ISC grows up to be another SC, that will indeed be a sad day for me. How many chance meetings of real value to HPC will have been lost, I wonder?

So while I don’t cling to the past, I do enjoy reliving the moment and reflecting on the end of a company like Sun and its esteemed technology. It reminds me that the future remains unwritten.

And then I watch the video again.

It was the best of times. Everyone smiled as the big switch was unveiled. Then we poured champaign from the Magnum bottle.

Andy raised his glass for a toast. And like the man in the Dickens novel, he looked sublime and prophetic.