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Interview: Irish Centre for High-End Computing Plans for ISC’14

As ISC’14 in Leipzig approaches, our series of interviews continues with some of the most novel exhibitors. Today we catch up with Dr. Michael Browne, Technical Manager at the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC), to see what’s on the plate for the conference.

insideHPC: Michael, please share a bit about the history of the ICHEC. How did it start and where is it today?

Dr. Michael Browne: The Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) was started in 2005 essentially as a self contained state (Science Foundation Ireland) funded research project with 4 or 5 staff hosted by one of Ireland’s Universities, NUI Galway. Today it has a great variety of activities. We have an office in Galway on the rugged west coast of Ireland and another office in Dublin city centre with its vibrant technology scene, within the “Silicon Dock” area where ICT giants such as Google, Facebook, Accenture etc. are located.

insideHPC: What is the over-arching mission of the Center?

Dr. Michael Browne: While ICHEC started with a focus on the provision of a high quality HPC service oriented around cycle delivery to academia this has developed significantly over the years. The focus on reliability is still there, as it must be for a centre which hosts the national weather forecast and other emergency related services, but ICHEC’s mission is now three pronged; working with Industry, the Public Sector and Academia. We have developed an active programme of industry engagement, typically consulting in niche areas and helping those partners exploit advanced computing within their organisations. This may be improving fraud detection algorithms, large-scale data management, tailored training courses or oil & gas related work. In fact it is very rarely about computer time! We also work with public sector bodies to support computing centric projects by the state and provide so-called platform technology support for research communities that need more than just raw cycles.

insideHPC: What has the center been doing lately as far as research projects?

Dr. Michael Browne: ICHEC doesn’t see itself as primarily a research driven organisation, though of course it happens in many ways. Our interests are primarily in the application of HPC and perhaps more importantly HPC methodologies both to support the research community and industry within Ireland. For example in a current large-scale funding call taking place in Ireland ICHEC is involved in various ways with the majority of the proposals. This shows the pervasive nature of HPC today as these proposals are across numerous disciplines and are not “HPC centric”. It is just a tool to be used effectively. We value involvement in FP7 and now Horizon 2020 research projects. About one quarter of our activity is in this area. An example is the AutoTune FP7 project which we’re involved in and which is lead by the Technical University of Munich. It looks at online tuning of applications for power or performance efficiency, and our partners bring a great deal of expertise in this area.

In our industry work we seek to publish technical notes and white papers with our partners whenever the opportunity arises however this is not always possible due to commercial disclosure concerns. For example we recently co-authored a white paper with DDN, describing the I/O optimisation of codes for GRIDScaler.

insideHPC: Who are your collaborators and what do they bring to the table?

Dr. Michael Browne: We have numerous collaborators both industrial and academic, perhaps the most topical is Intel with whom we’ve recently (Jan 2014) engaged to establish an Intel Parallel Computing Centre. Here we are mainly working on 3 codes, DL_POLY, Harmonie and R. So again across disciplines. Like some many codes these can benefit for work to modernize them and prepare them for a world with ever-increasing core counts. The obvious attraction of working with Intel on this project is the incredible in-depth knowledge of their own products that they bring. The transfer of knowledge into ICHEC then has knock on benefits for and especially where those codes are concerned. We have very strong links in the area of environmental science, a great example of this is our work with Met Éireann, Ireland’s meteorology service. Here computing and environmental expertise are readily combined not only to enhance day-to-day forecasts but also to look longer term at climate change and knock on effects like agricultural issues. Our work on Harmonie in the IPCC stems from this, so despite great variety there is coherency. Another key partner is the Oil & Gas exploration company Tullow Oil.

insideHPC: PRACE is obviously a big partner. What are your working on with that influential organization?

Dr. Michael Browne: We are very pleased to be involved with PRACE. One has to keep in mind that there are two sides to PRACE. One; research access to the largest machines in Europe and two; work in the background on many topics like, education and application scaling. The former is an important mechanism for researchers from many many disciplines especially from smaller countries such as Ireland, and understandably this is very competitive, but often by working together with research groups  it is possible to address the challenges. The scientific work this has enabled across Europe is in my mind the great success of PRACE to date. Within the project itself ICHEC works in a variety of areas, for example on classic HPC problems like scalable I/O for climate codes or scaling computation in an astrophysics code but also in outreach and training programmes to new HPC users and to the wider community. Many are not so aware of the relevancy of HPC and the ever more applicable skills associated with it despite now having a multicore processor in their pocket.

insideHPC: ISC’14 is a big event for ICHEC and for all of those in the European HPC ecosystem. What can you tell us about what you have lined up for the conference?

Dr. Michael Browne: ICHEC will certainly have a booth at ISC14. What is most valuable to us is the chance to talk to industry and also our peers in other countries. In the context of  multinationals this can be valuable even where those companies are already well represented in Ireland because you might speak to another part of the company entirely, with an interest in HPC and help make connections. This year we expect to be talking about early results from our work within the IPCC. I’m looking forward to a BoF on R which we’re involved in with TACC, R has such a diverse user base these days. In addition one of our tasks within PRACE at the moment includes helping with the organisation of the PRACE booth which is always a busy one given the wide reach of PRACE. I have also no doubt there will be many conversations to help iron out details of Horizon 2020 proposals and meetings with new partners.

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