Saturday, 2 January 2016

Looking back at 2015 - SC15, Austin

I was lucky enough to get out to the SC series of conferences again, this time SC15 in Austin Texas. I was pretty late in getting my act together to book to go again and struggled to find a hotel that was within budget, eventually I managed to get one sorted so I was all cleared to go.

I knew I was traveling on the same flight as someone I knew from NOC, so it was no surprise that I bumped into them at Manchester airport. We didn't expect to bump into a couple of the guys from OCF who were travelling a different route. Connecting in Georgia was pretty tight, but we both just made the gate as it was boarding and safely on to Austin!

Although it was pretty late UK time, we agreed to meet up for dinner in downtown Austin to help with the jet lag ... we found a couple of times in the week that there is clearly a strange attraction to the same places for UK folk - with over 12000 attendees at the SC conference, we managed to pick a restaurant and table next to the people I know at Cardiff working on the CLIMB project with me! (we did the same later as we went for a post-dinner pint and bumped into the Oxford e-research centre guys as well as the UK Lenovo people ... entirely coincidentally!).

Sunday morning didn't have anything planned in for the conference, so I again met Tom from NOC for morning coffee - as usual earlier than we wanted due to the joys of jet lag! Followed by a wander through downtown Austin and the Capitol area. I quite like exploring US cities early on Sunday mornings as they are usually pretty quiet, so its a fairly relaxing time to investigate. Whilst I found Austin to be a fairly chilled and welcoming city, it was interesting to check out it's confederate history and the statues around the Capitol.

Sunday was also the day of the Spectrum Scale user group, and as chair of the UK group, and it being the first SC event organised with the user group, I met up early with the US principal and co-principal (the first time we'd all met) along with a couple of the IBM people helping to run the event. The user group itself was really great, and it was good to see so many people there - we'd asked IBM for a bigger room than the one they ran their group in at New Orleans, and they delivered, it was also pretty full as well! There were some great talks from both IBM and from the user community, particularly interesting was the talk from Travelport on the monitoring tools they are using to keep an eye on their GPFS deployments.

Monday morning was the workshop on Parallel Data Storage, this opened with an interesting talk on holographic storage. The guys from Akonia Holographics are developing an interesting looking holographic worm drive with a tape like form factor, the theory being it will eventually retro-fit into existing tape libraries. An interesting idea, but a few years from being a product and how it will fit into the storage market then ... well that's anybody's guess, but with the advent of software defined solutions and cloud storage, maybe it will be less relevant. I also bumped into Dean Hildebrand from IBM there and we had a discussion about various projects we've been working on (Dean and Bill from IBM have been a great help with getting CLIMB up and running on Spectrum Scale!), he showed me a few things from the research he's been doing as well which was interesting.

Monday evening was the gala opening of the conference trade show hall which was as usual massive!  I think Austin convention centre was a little smaller than some of the other locations used by SC, and I'm not sure the two halls really worked well, with a lot of smaller and maybe quite specialised exhibitors in a small hall off the main hall.

On Tuesday I'd been invited by Lenovo to talk on their show floor stand about some of the projects I've been working on, so I had a 15 minute slot their to talk about CLIMB and the warm water cooling systems we've been trying to get installed (long story there ... for another blog post when we get it going!). I was a little worried no-one would be interested, but Lenovo had a great guy working the stand stage and getting people to sit down, if a little difficult to follow his act ;-)

Much of my remaining time was taken up with planned and ad-hoc meetings with vendors and technology companies, a lot of which is under NDA. Some of the companies I talked to include partners we've been working with (e.g. Lenovo, Mellanox, Dell, Adaptive Computing) as well as others who have interesting technology (e.g. Bull, HPE, SpectraLogic, Boston/Supermicro).

There were a number of stands this year focussing on cooling technology, with a lot looking at warm water cooled technology. There are now a lot more vendors focussing on this as a way of cooling systems either via their own solutions or after-market accredited options (which is essential for maintaining warranty!).

I was maybe a little cheeky on the Seagate stand, knowing a little bit about GPFS, I went to find out about their new ClusterStor appliance and had some quite complex questions. They did find me someone on the stand who did actually seem to know his stuff so it all worked out in the end there!

A few other things that were "launched" at SC15 worthy of note, DDN had their SFA14k storage array. Spectra with their Artic Blue (technically launched a few weeks before) which is a cold-storage shingle array with disk spin down. Bull announced Sequana, their exascale HPC solution. Adaptive computing also had torque 6 which has proper NUMA support finally and they spent some time going through the features of this with me, if it works properly as they explained they its pretty neat.

As well as vendor meetings, there were a number of ad-hoc meetings arranged out there, including meeting up with a couple of the CLIMB guys to work out a mini plan for how we are going to progress some of the issues on the project.

In addition to the trade show, there's a full programme of talks running alongside, with invited keynote speakers as well as sometimes quite esoteric papers on specific research projects. Alan Alda was one of the keynotes who spoke on the importance of being able to explain science to non-scientific audiences and he had a great video to demonstrate some of the work he'd been involved with on this. I guess one workshop I went to that did disappoint was the one billed as CEPH and HPC  ... which wasn't really people talking about CEPH and HPC, more how they were using CEPH alongside their HPC solutions (e.g. as a backup target).

I'd have liked to have gone to the session on building HPC applications, but it clashed with a meeting I had, though as with many of these events, the slides get posted online, so I've managed to catch up on these as this is something we really need to deploy at Birmingham to help with our software management.

One thing I think the conference missed this year was the early evening keynote talks which I went to a few in New Orleans. But maybe they were just on topics I wasn't overly interested in. Though I do like to get to some talks on topics that aren't obviously my thing as it helps with awareness on who we should be engaging with in our academic communities to see if we have services that can help empower their research.

The conference technical programme wraps up with a big social event on the Thursday evening, and this year it was held at the home of Texas Longhorns. I'm always amazed at the size of the football stadiums, particularly bearing in mind this is a University football team!

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