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Andrew Jones wraps up ISC 2017

In this special guest feature, Andrew Jones from NAG offers his perspective on ISC 2017. How he came to know such things is a mystery as Mr. Jones did not attend the show this year. One thing is for sure; from now on I’m going to assume his agents are everywhere.

Andrew Jones is VP of the HPC business at NAG in the UK.

For most of the HPC people gathered in Frankfurt for ISC 2017, Wednesday evening marks the end of the hard work, the start of the journey home for some, already home for others. A few hardy souls will hang on until Thursday for the workshops. So, as you relax with a drink in Frankfurt, trudge through airports on the way home, or catch up on the week’s emails, here’s my final daily summary of ISC17, as seen through the lens of twitter, private conversations, and the HPC media.

This follows my highlights blogs from Monday “Cutting through the ISC17 clutter”  (~20k views so far) and Tuesday “ISC17 information overload” (~4k views so far).
So what sticks out from the last day, and what sticks out from the week overall?

Deep Learning

Wednesday was touted by ISC as “deep learning day”. If we follow the current convention (inaccurate but seemingly pervasive) of using deep learning, machine learning, AI (nobody actually spells out artificial intelligence), big data, data analytics, etc. as totally interchangeable terms (why let facts get in the way of good marketing?), then Wednesday was indeed deep learning day, judging by by tweet references to one or more of the above. However, I struggle to nail down exactly what I am supposed to have learnt about HPC and deep learning from today’s content. Perhaps you had to be there in person (there is a reason why attending conferences is better than watching via twitter).

I think my main observations are:

  • DL/ML/AI/BigData/analytics/… is a real and growing part of the HPC world – both in terms of “traditional” HPC users looking at these topics, and new users from these backgrounds peering into the HPC community to seek performance advantages.
  • A huge proportion of the HPC community doesn’t really know what DL/ML/… actually means in practice (which software, use case, workflow, skills, performance characteristics, …).
  • It is hard to find the reality behind the marketing of DL/ML/… products, technologies, and “success stories” of the various vendors. But, hey, what’s new? – I was driven to deal with this issue for GPUs and cloud in my recent webinar “Dissecting the myths of Cloud and GPUs for HPC“.
  • Between all of the above, I still feel there is a huge opportunity being missed: for users in either community and for the technology/product providers. I don’t have the answers though.


Barcelona (BSC) has joined other HPC centers (e.g., Bristol Isambard, Cambridge Peta5, …) in buying a bit of everything to explore the technology diversity for future HPC systems: “New MareNostrum Supercomputer Reflects Processor Choices Confronting HPC Users“.

Exascale is now a world-wide game: China, European countries, USA, Japan are all close enough to start talking about how they might get to exascale, rather than merely visions of wanting to get there.

People are on the agenda: growing the future HPC talent, e.g., the ISC STEM Student Day Day & Gala, the Student Cluster Competition, gender diversity (Women-in-HPC activities), and more.

Wrapping up

There are some parts of ISC that have been repeated over the years due to demand. Thomas Sterling’s annual “HPC Achievement & Impact” keynote that traditionally closes ISC (presenting as I write this) is an excellent session and goes a long way towards justifying the technical program registration fee.

2017 sees the welcome return of Addison Snell‘s “Analyst Crossfire“. With a great selection of questions, fast pace, and well chosen panel members, this is always a good event. Of course, I am biased towards the ISC11 Analyst Crossfire being the best one!

I’ll join Addison’s fun with my “one up, one down” for ISC17. Up is CSCS, not merely for Piz Daint knocking the USA out of the top 3 of the Top500, but for a sustained program of supercomputing over many years, culminating in this leadership position. Down is Intel – brings a decent CPU to market in Skylake but gets backlash for pricing, has to face uncertainty over the CORAL Aurora project, and in spite of a typically high profile presence at the show, a re-emerging rival AMD takes a good share of the twitter & press limelight with EPYC.

Until next time

That’s all from me for ISC17. I’ll be back with more blogs over the next few weeks, based on my recent conference talks (e.g., “Six Trends in HPC for Engineers” and “Measuring the Business Impact of HPC“).

You can catch up with me in person at the SEG Annual Meeting, EAGE HPC Workshop (I’m presenting), the TACC-NAG Training Institute for Managers, and SC17 (I can reveal we will be delivering tutorials again, including a new one – more details soon!).

In the meantime, interact with me on twitter @hpcnotes, where I provide pointers to key HPC content, plus my comments and opinions on HPC matters (with a bit of F1 and travel geekery thrown in for fun).

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