At ISC 2016, The Times, They Are A-Changin’

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In this special guest feature, Kim McMahon and Brian E. Whitaker share their perspectives on the supercomputer industry from ISC 2016 in Frankfurt.

Kim McMahon, Xand McMahon

Kim McMahon, Xand McMahon

It’s that time of the year again, when those of us in HPC sit back and take stock of our industry. After the rush to release something meaningful at ISC each summer, it’s time to take a breath and measure the progress everyone around us has made since Supercomputing the previous fall.

The industry is always changing, but this year, it seems like the rate of change has accelerated. HPC is going beyond traditional workloads, use cases, and even technologies. HPC in the cloud is a real thing. HPC + Big Data is maturing. Machine learning, deep learning, and artificial intelligence are beginning to intersect HPC, with other cutting-edge ideas hiding in the wings. More vendors are involved, more innovation is rising to the top, and more organizations see ISC High Performance as the perfect place for research and learning. Next week will be an exciting week to be part of HPC.

Consortiums are big contributors to accelerating change this year. They’re popping up everywhere, spanning regions, states, and even cities. Cross-consortium collaboration helps to drive real shifts in the industry, and we’re even seeing vendor specific consortiums like Dell HPC Community and HP-CAST play an increasingly important role.

ISC hosts 147 exhibitors this year across hardware, software, and services, and many have more to say than just marketecture – they’re bringing real opportunities and capabilities to market. Companies who once left ISC are returning, including NVIDIA and NetApp, because HPC and HPC-like technologies are becoming a critical facet of IT across all verticals and sectors. For an enterprise vendor, if you’re not participating, and not displaying real insights into HPC, you’re impeding your credibility with customers everywhere.

Alliances are another change agent this year. So many have cropped up, most of them bringing an open source perspective to the world of HPC. Alliances such as OpenPOWER, Open HPC, HPC Advisory Council, Open MPARB, and the OpenCompute Project are doing the HPC community a real service. By helping everyone coalesce around ideas and working to drive – and incorporate – industry standards into groundbreaking work, they’ve brought huge buzz to HPC, an idea that just a few years ago was a little off the beaten track.

Brian E Whitaker, Zettabyte Content

Brian E Whitaker, Zettabyte Content

There’s a lot of anticipation in the air, and many great ideas will be shared at ISC. The conference presents a multitude of forums for learning and growth — technical sessions, vendor booths, networking parties, and BoFs all provide opportunities to find technology partners, engage with prospects, and contribute to the ongoing conversations in HPC.

And there’s an emerging technology offering interesting possibilities. Is it possible for composable infrastructure to begin influencing – and redefining – HPC design? Composable infrastructure, a framework whose physical compute, storage, and network fabric resources are treated as services, is in its early days right now, with HPE Synergy and Intel Rack Scale Architectures being the only examples worth noting. But the mix of infrastructure as code coupled with silicon photonic interconnects could bring HPC efficiency to an entirely new level.

Imagine the possibilities — you have a Big Data workload that’s beginning to crunch a data set. Suddenly, via an open API, it says “I’m about to get busy. I need 64 cores, 100Gb of bandwidth, and 2 terabytes of storage” – and the hardware answers, instantly, from a pool of disaggregated hardware that’s constantly available for other workloads. Most people are talking about composable for hyperscale deployments, but in a couple of years we may be seeing composable as a mainstream approach for HPC. Would that blow up expectations and shake up economics? Are HPE and Intel are thinking along those lines? Is the future of hyperscale beginning to emerge? Perhaps you should ask around in Frankfurt.

Brian Whitaker is the founder and president of Zettabyte Content, which specializes in marketing for complex technologies. He’s worked with a wide range of companies, including Dell, VMware, the OpenStack Foundation, and IBM. He can be reached at

Kim McMahon is co-founder of Xand McMahon, which provides smart marketing for HPC. Xand McMahon is providing free social media profile reviews during coffee breaks at ISC High Performance; stop by booth 414 to learn more. Kim can be reached at

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