Luckily, Denver is a really nice city with a European-style pedestrian shopping area and many excellent restaurants in the city center, otherwise it would become boring coming here so often. It felt like I had been here just a while ago, but it was actually March. I came here (yet again) for the Technical Program Paper Selection meeting on June 5 and 6 as well as our next SC planning meeting on June 6 and 7. In addition, there was a meeting of the SC Steering Committee on June 9.

SC17 Tech Paper committee meeting — Picture by Bernd Mohr

The first one and half days the SC17 Tech Paper committee met face-to-face to discuss and select the final paper submissions for the conference in November. Almost the complete committee attended — over 200 people! SC is one of a few parallel computing conferences where this meeting is face-to-face; normally the paper selection is done in a smaller group or on-line only. This is remarkable, given the size of the committee (which is larger than the number of actual attendees for quite a few smaller HPC conferences or workshops I know) and that at least 35% of the reviewers are non-US, which means, they have to travel transatlantic or transpacific just to attend this short meeting (on their own or their home institution’s money!). A big thank you to them for their hard and dedicated work!

SC considers it essential that this meeting is done face-to-face to ensure that every paper is well discussed in a fair manner,  to ensure a balance in fairness and quality across the different topic areas and to ensure a high quality of the accepted papers. Since last year, the review is done double-blind, i.e. not only the reviewers are kept anonymous to the authors but also the author names and organizations are hidden from the reviewers. This is to ensure that the reviews are fair to everyone and not only submissions of well-known authors or organizations are chosen.

SC17 continued efforts started at SC16 to promote reproducibility of scientific results in the SC Technical Papers program. SC16 introduced an Artifact Description appendix, an optional appendix for paper submissions. SC17 continued with this optional appendix and introduced a second, complementary, and also optional, Computational Results Analysis appendix for papers. As the Reproducibility Initiative FAQ explains “The Artifacts Description appendix is simply a description of the computing environment used to produce the results in a paper. By itself, this appendix does not directly improve scientific reproducibility. However, if this artifact is done well, it can be used by scientists (including the authors at a later date) to more easily replicate and build upon the results in the paper. Therefore, the Artifacts Description appendix can reduce barriers and costs of replicating published results. It is an important first step toward full scientific reproducibility.

While the paper committee was meeting, a small group and me used the time to visit a few catering companies which want to provide the food and drinks for our two big evening events in November namely the Sunday night Exhibitor event and the Thursday night Tech program event. Both are attended by over 2,000 people so you better make sure you have enough space and enough food and drinks 😉 Of course the visits included a food tasting at the various caterers. This sounds like fun but as I can tell you now from my own experience, it is actually quite stressful! At each caterer, they prepared about 20 different samples and of course they are all delicious and you want to eat them all, but you have to restrain yourself and only take small bites, otherwise you would not be able to walk out by yourself at the end of the day 😉

Chili Bucket Wall Segment — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Chili Buckets — Picture by Bernd Mohr

We also learned about new trends in the food industry — especially about innovations to help feed our larger group of attendees more quickly: one such innovation is the food bucket wall (see above). Multiple segments each with 80 or more little buckets (the size of a large coffee mug) forming a long (15 to 20 m) wall containing for example a variety of Chili (beef, buffalo, or vegetarian). People entering the event quickly can grab a bucket and the buckets are large enough to satisfy hunger. Waiters behind the wall can quickly repopulate the wall with new buckets.

After the Tech paper meeting, the SC planning committee met for another one and half days. We discussed the status and next steps for each of the different areas (Communication, Exhibits, Finance, Infrastructure, Inclusivity, Local Arrangements, SCinet, Students@SC, and Tech program) especially items which needed interactions between the different subcommittees. A lot can be prepared over emails and phone calls, but nothing beats sitting in a group around a table and getting things done 😉 !

SC17 committee at work — Picture by Christine Harvey

Overall, the organization of the conference is running smoothly, no major issues. Must be because the conference is led by a well-organized German for the first time 😉 — just kidding, it is of course because of all the work of my amazing committee!!

An interesting item we decided in this meeting was the design for the stage we will use for the opening of the conference, the award sessions and the invited speaker talks in the main ballroom. The stage (and its main presentation screen) will be 50m(!) wide, that is all I can reveal at this point. It will be breath-taking but you will have to come to the conference in November to see yourself!

 

 

On March 21 and 22, 2017, we had our 6th SC17 Planning meeting, again in Denver, Colorado. Wow, time flies, I still remember getting some rest over the Christmas holidays and then spent a nice week in the US at the SC16/17 Turnover meeting in January.  Where did the past two month go? Now there are only 235 days left until the opening of SC17 in November. Saying it is still 5640 hours is not really helping 😉 At least we had nice Spring weather — last year around the same time when we had our 1st meeting, Denver was hit by a major snowstorm!

SC17 Committee Meeting in Denver — Picture by Bernd Mohr

The SC17 committee (which by now has 540 members, counting everyone including all the technical program reviewers) is working daily on preparing the conference in November. Meanwhile, I am spending 2 to 4 hours a day reading and answering SC committee email, and working on SC plans, guidelines, policies and contracts. Luckily for me, I am fully supported by Forschungszentrum Jülich and my institute, Jülich Supercomputing Centre, for this task — doing such a job aside (in your free time) is hardly possible.

We are making good progress. Selection of technical program elements are in full swing. Workshop submissions have already been reviewed and handled. We accepted 36 out of 54 submissions. Last year there were 56 submissions, another sign we are well on track. Currently, the submission is open for technical papers and tutorials, the other two major elements of our technical program, with deadlines coming up early April. The deadline for other program elements are later in the year in July and August. Managing the submission, reviewing and selection of the various technical program elements is the largest part of the currently on-going work.This explains why the technical program committee is the largest of our conference committees (currently 368 members). Just the Technical Paper Committee features over 200 members, so we can assure that every paper submission gets at least 4 reviews, and the review can be done in a reasonable amount of time.

Beside this, the space plan, a detailed document which shows which activity and conference functions are located in which conference center room at which time, with all details including the room layout, available electricity and AV equipment, is almost complete. A group of people which are responsible for the various conference activities as well as our local arrangements team visited the Colorado Convention Center again to familiarize themselves with the rooms and center layout. Sales of commercial and research exhibit booths for our show floor are also  coming together well — we are well set for another record number of exhibitors and exhibition booth space.

To keep me focused on my SC organization work, I bought myself a 20cm replica of the Blue Bear statue out side of the Colorado Convention Center (see below). It is standing now in my book shelf behind my back in my office watching me work 😉

The “Blue Bear” mascot of the Colorado Convention Center, Denver — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Replica of Blue Bear mascot of Colorado Convention Center — Picture by Bernd Mohr

This week, the SC committee met in the historic city of Charleston in South Carolina. This was another so-called “Turnover” meeting. As I explained in this post, in a “turnover” meeting the outgoing SC committee (SC16 this time) meets with the now-in-charge committee for this year’s conference (SC17, so my committee!) to exchange ideas and experiences, discuss issues and problems and suggestions how to fix them for the next conference. This is one instrument SC uses to ensure quality and continuity over the years although the organizing committee changes from year to year.  The Turnover meeting is traditionally in a “warmer” location (as it is always mid to end of January), and Charleston did not disappoint us in this regard: we had nice spring temperatures, wore T-shirts during the day, and one evening was even so warm , we could sit outside for a round of drinks after dinner.

Luckily, no major issues happened during SC16 in Salt Lake City, so in the meeting we concentrated on discussing and fixing minor subjects, for example how to improve the double-blind review for technical papers, the child-care room, and the online program available as mobile website instead of a separate smart phone app; all items which were introduced at SC16. Other topics included selecting the final submission deadlines for technical program elements or the communication strategy for the rest of the year. Although this was already the 5th planning meeting for SC17, it felt different this time, now my committee and I are really in charge, as we have to organize this year’s SC conference. We still have 10 months to accomplish this task, but everyone knows how time flies when you are busy 😉 Anyhow, the more planning meetings we have, the more I am convinced I picked the right people for my committee and that we will deliver the best SC conference ever!

In the evenings, we had time to explore the excellent restaurant and bar scene of the city. One bar was especially interesting: it had the custom that guests sign a one dollar bill out of the tip and glue it to the wall:

Money wall in bar in Charleston, SC — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Closer look at money wall in bar in Charleston, SC — Picture by Bernd Mohr

The weekend before, I had the chance to visit the in Congaree National Park, the largest intact area of old growth hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.  The forest gets flooded every winter by the Congaree and Wateree Rivers. This together with perfect temperatures through-out the year make the park home of many national and state champion trees.

Flooded forest in Congaree National Park — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Board walk in Congaree National Park — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Visiting the park in Winter means that it is not as green and pretty as in Summer, but if you are lucky you can experience some of the flooding. In order to make this possible, many miles of the hiking paths of the park are actually elevated wooden board walks. But the best part is that in Winter there are no mosquitos; I got told that some parts of the year, the mosquito situation is so bad that you are only allowed to hike in the park with special protective gear!

Mosquito meter in Congaree National Park — Picture by Bernd Mohr

As I explained in my last post, the “official” birth of the SC17 conference was on November 17, 2016, 8:25. However, only a day later, I am “really officially” in charge of the SC conference, when in a little behind-the-scences ceremony, the Key of the SC Conference was passed on form the past chair (John West, SC16) to me.

John West (SC16 General Chair) presents the Key of the SC Conference to the audience — Picture by Phillip Roth

Official hand-over of the Key! — Picture by Phillip Roth

I am in charge! I have the Key! — Picture by Phillip Roth

The Key of the SC Conference. Pure gold, I guess 😉 Attached to the keys are little charms with the names of all SC General chairs. My first task will be to add another charm with my name. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

It is a SC tradition that on Thursday of the SC conference (this year: November 17th), next year’s conference is unveiled to the public. In some sense, it is the “official” birth of the SC17 conference, even if I started to work on its organization now almost two years ago. It is also the moment, the SC17 website is finally made available to the public.

Me on the stage for the rehearsal of the SC17 preview session. — Picture by SC

Me in front of the almost 50 meters wide screen which had a special 3D structure (which required a very special projection concept using 14 projectors) — Picture by SC

In a special preview session before the Thursday morning plenary session, I had the chance to present our SC17 preview video.

The video introduces our SC17 tag line: HPC connects! We chose this tagline highlighting the fact that the most important reason to attend the SC conference (provided by the annual attendee questionnaire results) is “Networking with friends/colleagues”.

I sure hope you like our video! We put quite some efforts into creating it! The producer of the video is Jennifer Boyd, a nine-times Emmy award winner! The music was composed by Michael Bacon (yes, he is the brother of Kevin Bacon, the Hollywood actor) who is the composer of many Hollywood and TV movies and documentaries (and he also won a Grammy!).

At the end of the video, our SC17 logo is uncovered. And here it is (TaTa!):

I know what you think now: Is it a coincidence that the colors of the logo match the colors of the Belgian flag? Yes, I can assure you, this is pure coincidence 😉 The story behind the logo is that our story behind the tagline (HPC connects) actually has three components: HPC connecting minds, systems, and science! That is, HPC connecting the people working in HPC, the systems (clusters, instruments, storage, visualization and analytics components) they are using, collaboratively working in different areas of  science (computer and application sciences). The three aspects are symbolized by the three circles. Of course, the three aspects cannot clearly be separated, this is why the circles are connected and their color “blend” into each other. The red circle is representing the minds, as red is the color of passion and determination, but also is the color of blood. The black circle (surprise!) is representing the systems (black boxes!). Finally, the yellow (or gold) circle stands for science, as this is the important (and most valuable) output of our communities’ work.

At the conference, we used the logo for the layout of our conference preview booth where we informed attendees about SC17 and Denver, where the conference will be located.

SC17 Preview Booth at SC16 — Picture by Bernd Mohr

The designer of the booth did a great job! The logo was sticking out of the wall and had a “back-light” made out of LED-strings.  This light effect made quite some impression in the dark entry lobby of the Salt Lake City convention center.

SC is not only a large technical conference with technical paper presentations, tutorials, workshops or panels, but also features a Research and Industry Exhibition where (this year) 349 exhibitors from industry, academia and research organizations from around the world presented their latest products, research and concepts in exhibition booths. Setting up the exhibition is quite some effort and actually starts days before the opening of the conference (and the exhibition).

I tried to document this effort by taking a picture from the same position every day. The pictures show only half of the exhibition floor, as the Salt Palace Convention Center has the form of a large “L”, so it is very hard to take a picture of both legs of the “L”.

Thursday, November 10 — 4 days before opening. Most exhibition booths are still in boxes but some exhibitors started assembling their booth. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Friday, November 11 — 3 days before opening. Most exhibitors started. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Saturday, November 12 — 2 days before opening. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Sunday, November 13 — 1(!) day before opening. One can see the progress but one is wondering whether everything is really ready for the opening. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Monday, November 14 — Morning of the day of the opening. Looks better. Carpet deployed in the hallways between the booths. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Monday, November 14 — Afternoon of the day of the opening. Almost ready. Final cleaning. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Monday, November 14 — 19:00: Official opening; John West (General Chair) and Trey Breckenridge (Exhibition Chair) cut the “rope” of the exhibition. Impressive scissors! — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Tuesday, November 15 — First day of the exhibition. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Friday, November 18 — Early next morning after the closing of the exhibition the afternoon the day before. Everything is almost packed again already. Tearing down is certainly faster than constructing the booths! — Picture by Bernd Mohr

 

From November 13th to 18th, 2016, SC16, the 28th annual international conference of high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis, took place in Salt Lake City, Utah. Like every year the past 27 years, the conference was very successful and drew more than 11,100 registered attendees and featured a technical program spanning six days. The exhibit hall featured 349 exhibitors from industry, academia and research organizations from around the world.

Me enjoying the sun outside the SC16 conference and exhibition hall. — Picture by Bernd Mohr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, as every year, many exciting things happened, but luckily for me, others already nicely summarized the SC16 conference, so I can keep this article short. 😉 The SC16 communication team published a nice summary about SC16 including a list of all award winners. My JSC colleague Andreas Herten wrote an entertaining FZJ blog article describing his experiences and impressions visiting SC16 and Salt Lake City. And finally, Kim McMahon, the Marketing & Communications Chair of my SC17 Inclusivity Committee, shared her thoughts and impressions of SC16 in this blog post.

So what is left to me are some personal picture impressions 😉

SC16 General Chair John West from TACC opening the conference — Picture by Bernd Mohr

The SC16 main ballroom used for keynotes, award presentations and plenary invited talks. It seats 3500 people — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Student and PostDoc Job Fair at SC16 — Companies and Research organizations offering jobs and internships — Picture by Bernd Mohr

On Thursday, the week-long nice weather ended and we got “some” snow — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Salt Lake Mormon Temple — Picture by Bernd Mohr

[Note: This is an article I originally wrote for TOP500 Blog. It is reproduced with permission here.]

While there is always a lot of buzz about the latest HPC hardware architecture developments or exascale programming methods and tools, everyone agrees that in the end the only thing that counts are the results and societal impact produced by the technology. Results and impacts are coming from the scientific and industrial applications running on HPC systems. The application space is diverse ranging from astrophysics (A) to zymology (Z). So the question arises of how to effectively fund development and optimization of HPC applications to make them suitable for current petascale and future exascale systems.

The answer was provided in the European Union (EU) Horizon 2020 (H2020) e-Infrastructures call, Centres of Excellence for computing applications, which was initiated in September 2014. The work would establish a limited number of Centres of Excellence (CoE) necessary to ensure EU competitiveness in the application of HPC for addressing scientific, industrial or societal challenges. The Centres were conceived to be user-focused, develop a culture of excellence, both scientific and industrial, and place computational science and the harnessing of “big data” at the center of scientific discovery and industrial competitiveness. Centres could be thematic, addressing specific application domains such as medicine, life science or energy; transversal, focused on computational science (e.g., algorithms, analytics, and numerical methods); challenge-driven, addressing societal or industrial challenges (e.g., aging, climate change, and clean transport); or a combination of these approaches.

Eight Centres of Excellence for computing applications were subsequently selected for funding and established before the end of 2015. They cover important areas like renewable energy, materials modeling and design, molecular and atomic modeling, climate change, global system science, and bio-molecular research, as well as tools to improve HPC applications performance. Now, nine months later, these Centres are up and running and it is worth to have a closer look at the different ones:

  • CoeGSS – CoE for Global Systems Science will address the emerging scientific domain of Global Systems Science (GSS), which is a vital challenge for modern societies to understand global systems and related policies. The field will use high performance computing as a critical tool to help overcome extremely complex societal and scientific obstacles. Due to the nature of the problems addressed in typical GSS applications, the relevant data sets are usually very large, highly heterogeneous in nature, and are expected to grow tremendously over time.  Bridging HPC with high performance data analysis is thus the key to the success of GSS in the next decade.
  • EoCoE – Energy Oriented CoE is helping the EU transition to a reliable and low-carbon energy supply using HPC. The Centre is focusing on applications in (a) meteorology as a means to predict variability of solar and wind energy production; (b) materials employed for photovoltaic cells, batteries and super capacitors for energy storage; (c) water as a vector for thermal or kinetic energies, focusing on geothermal and hydropower; and (d) fusion for electricity plants as a long-term alternative energy source. These four areas will be anchored within a strong transversal multidisciplinary basis providing expertise in advanced mathematics, linear algebra, algorithms, and HPC tools.
  • E-CAM – Supporting HPC Simulation in Industry and Academia is an e-infrastructure for software, training and consultancy in simulation and modeling. It will identify the needs of its 12 industrial partners and build appropriate consultancy services. E-CAM plans to create over 150 new, robust software modules, directed at industrial and academic users, in the areas of electronic structure calculations, classical molecular dynamics, quantum dynamics, and mesoscale and multi-scale modeling.
  • MaX – Materials design at the eXascale CoE  is supporting developers and end users in materials simulations, design and discovery. It is enabling the best use of HPC technologies by creating an ecosystem of codes, data workflows, analysis, and services in material science to sustain this effort. At the same time, it will enable the exascale transition in the materials domain by developing advanced programming models, novel algorithms, domain-specific libraries, in-memory data management, software/hardware co-design and technology-transfer actions.
  • NOMAD – The Novel Materials Discovery Laboratory is developing a materials encyclopedia and big data analytics toolset for materials science and engineering. The Centre will integrate the leading codes and make their results comparable by converting (and compressing) existing inputs and outputs into a common format, thus making this valuable data accessible (as the NOMAD Repository) to academia and industry. It currently contains over three million entries.
  • BioExcel – CoE for Biomolecular Research is operating towards advancement and support of the HPC software ecosystem in the life sciences domain. Research and expertise covers structural and functional studies of the main building blocks of living organisms (proteins, DNA, membranes, etc.) and techniques for modeling their interactions, ranging from quantum to coarse-grained models, up to the level of a single cell. The Centre will improve the performance, efficiency and scalability of key codes in biomolecular science, make ICT technologies and workflows easier to use, promote best practices, and train end users.
  • POP — Performance Optimisation and Productivity CoE gathers leading experts in performance tools/analysis and programming models in Europe. It is the only transversal CoE. The Centre offers services to the academic and industrial communities to help them better understand the behavior of their applications, suggests the most productive directions for optimizing the performance of the codes, and helps implementing those transformations in the most productive way. The consortium includes academic and supercomputing centers with a long track record of world-class research, as well as service companies and associations with leading expertise in high performance support services and promotion.

Teams from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre are involved in four of the CoE: EoCoE, E-CAM, MaX, and POP (where my team is participating).

On August 3 and 4, 2016, we had our third SC17 planning meeting in the SC17 conference city, Denver, Colorado. In Germany, we would call this August meeting “mountain party” (“Bergfest”) , as we reached now the halftime in our three year quest to organize the SC17 conference, and after 18 months of steep, hard, up-hill work to reach the summit, the second half of the trip should be easier and down-hill. Of course, the future will show whether it is really down-hill 😉 It is also the last (face-to-face) planning meeting this year before the SC16 conference in Salt Lake City in November, however the organizing committee will continue to meet in monthly tele-conferences.

 

The "Blue Bear" mascot infront of the Colorado Convention Center, Denver -- Picture by Bernd Mohr

The “Blue Bear” mascot of the Colorado Convention Center, Denver — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Meeting attendance was again higher than past meetings: 31 attendees compared to 22 and 12, so beyond the top-level Executive Committee much more of the next level Committee Chairs (mainly from Infrastructure and Local Arrangements) and of our contractors (like Exhibition Management, Meeting Management, or Web Design) attended.

Like in the last meeting we mainly discussed the progress the teams accomplished the past three months and the next steps ahead of us. Most of the work done at this point is actually working on contracts: After we had finalized in 2015 all the contracts with hotels for our attendees and exhibitors for the conference in November 2017 (almost two dozen of them!), in 2016 the work concentrates on the contracts with hotels for the five planning meetings in 2017 (January, March, June, August, and October), the SCinet meeting also in October, the January meeting (“turnover”)  in 2018, the final Convention Center contract, and, last-but-not-least, renewals or even competitive bids for our contractors. Luckily we get a lot of support here from professionals working for ACM and IEEE, the SC conference sponsors! The second focus point is the communication team, which has to get our first version of the SC17 website live and public by November 17, the Thursday of this year’s conference. The same day, a short (2 minutes) SC17 preview video will be shown for the first time. The production of this video is especially exciting as we hired a producer which won already 9(!) Emmy awards, so you see how serious we take this task 😉

After the meeting, a smaller group of us used the opportunity being in our conference city touring more possible locations for our two big evening events: the Sunday Exhibitor and Thursday Tech Program Networking Events. The locations must be able to host a couple of thousand attendees and you can imagine that even in a big city like Denver, there are not too many of those. In addition, they should be close to the Convention Center and conference hotels, and finally, they must be available for us on the two very specific dates (because these are already set). I can report that we found fabulous locations for both events, but of course I cannot tell you yet, as it would ruin the surprise (and, of course, we have not finalized the contracts(!) with them yet 🙂

New Denver A line train connection Denver airport to Downtown -- Picture by Bernd Mohr

New Denver A line train connection Denver airport to Downtown — Picture by Bernd Mohr

Arriving in Denver Union Station! -- Picture Bernd Mohr

Arriving in Denver Union Station! — Picture Bernd Mohr

This visit allowed me also to test the new Denver tram line which connects Denver airport to downtown Union station. Worked like a charm! A one-way trip is US$ 9 and there is a train every 15 minutes. The ride takes about 40 minutes. The best part is that this makes the trip to the airport much more reliable, because before that it depended very much on the traffic in and around Denver.

On June 9, 2016, we had our second SC17 planning meeting in Snowbird, Utah. It is actually a ski winter resort which means you can rent it for meetings in summer for quite some low rate 😉 Why Snowbird? Well, the meeting is traditionally in the city of the conference the year before which is Salt Lake City this year (2016). However, due to some other event in the city during the week, all hotels were completely booked, so the meeting was relocated to Snowbird nearby. It is a very nice place but being located at 2468 meters above sea level, you had to drink a lot of water all day in order not to get elevation sick 😉

20160611_084231This second meeting was a little bit larger than the first (22 attendees compared to 12), so beyond my Executive Committee some other Committee Chairs (like the Space Chair and our new Inclusivity Chair) as well as some of our contractors (like Exhibition Management, Meeting Management, or Web Design) attended.

In the meeting we mainly discussed the progress the teams accomplished the past three months and the next steps ahead of us. The communication team reported on the conference tagline and the logo they created; however you have to wait until SC16 in November to see them when our first version of the SC17 website goes live and public. The finance team has created a first budget for the conference and we now have to wait for approval of the budget by the governance bodies of the societies behind SC, ACM and IEEE.

20160611_124443After the meeting, I used an afternoon to visit the Bonneville Salt Flat, about two hours west of Salt Lake City. It is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake and is known for land speed records at the “Bonneville Speedway”.