The keynote of the conference was given by Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia. Jen-Hsun described how Nvidia was born through the desires of him and others wanting to play 3D games. Nvidia has had explosive growth in the consumer graphics market since it launched, more recently it has been making inroads into the HPC area with General Purpose GPU computing. This expansion into HPC stems from their decision to support IEEE floating point numbers when introducing programmable shaders to their cards. These programmable shaders have developed into CUDA and OpenCL, the languages that can be used to program the cards.
Jen-Hsun also highlighted that the supercomputers of today are the desktop computers of tomorrow and the smartphones and tablets of the day after. To look forward to what our smartphone or tablet will show in 2019, Jen-Hsun fired up Call of Duty 3 and played a short segment. The graphics of this looked very realistic. Going one step further to show what the desktop computers of 2019 would be capable of, we were shown a rendered video of Assassins Creed, the video showed what would take the equivalent of a 100TF machine to render in realtime. Whilst these demos were impressive, and useful to show visually what running the supercomputer of today on your desk tomorrow actually means what came next was probably more impressive.
Jen-Hsun introduced a special effects designer, who was hidden behind the stage curtain, the designer then proceeded to fire up Maya running on a Nvidi Maximus machine, which integrates Tesla and Quattro cards. The designer then built a scence from a movie which involved a real time simulation of a water flowing down a mountainside and things crashing into the water. The real-time simulation was extremely impressive and I can see lots of uses in visualization and user engagement activity. The bigger impact though is what it means for workflow, scences that used to take days to develop using a batch render-review-modify cycle can now be done collaboratively by designer and director, the productivity boost is potentially huge.
Underpinning the whole presentation was the The Innovator's Dilemma, which looks at how disruptive technologies sneak up on established market players and oust them. This is how Nvidia rose to dominate the graphics market, starting out in the low-end consumer market and increasing the performance on their products to a point that they could take over the science and engineering workstation market from the likes of SGI. Why is this interesting or important for Supercomputing, well we are starting to see some disruptive technologies enter into the HPC space, we have Nvidia with GPGPUs, but we also have people like ARM and SeaMicro with solutions that prioritise power consumption over raw performance. I think the HPC space will see some big changes in the push for exascale.
Throughout the conference I continued to explore the exhibit floor, as late as Thursday afternoon I was still finding areas that I hadn't seem before! I've previously mentioned the Internet2 booth and OpenFlow as an exciting technology. For me though "Best in Show" has to go to NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), they had a globe suspended from the exhibit hall ceiling with four projectors, showing various weather releated maps and information. At the demo I saw, we got to see hurricanes (including Katrina) as they developed and made landfall on the US Coast, and see various other ocean currents, weather patterns as they evolved. During the questions they were able to tell a conference delegate if his flight home should have a tail wind or not! Why "Best in Show" for this booth though, because it was both visually interesting, well presented, and it was showing science in action. The system was controlled by the presenter who had an iPad which was able to bring up any set of images on the globe she required.
The image above is of the NOAA globe at their booth on in the SC11 Exhibit Hall
For those that like flashy, blinky lights, the SCinet cabinets were impressive, below is a photo showing some of the racks of networking gear that supplied the network for the conference, remember 450Gbit/s of bandwidth was provided for the conference!
unfortunatly I didn't get to see any of the big network experiments in action on the exhibit floor, never quite able to be in the right place at the right time. I attended a number of sessions on High Performance Computing using Python, which were interesting, it is making inroads over Fortran and C in a number of communities. I also spent some time touring the poster display which highlighted a wide variety of work. The scientific visualization showcase had some interesting visualizations, but it would have been even better if they had been interactive!
The conference social event was a trip to the Seattle Space Needle, which included a chance to go up to the main obeservation deck and look out across Seattle at night. The Space Needle was an interesting venue, but with so many people, it got a little cramped!
I have one more blog post to make, that will cover education, training and outreach and will distill a number of things that I picked up, learnt and have reflected on since my trip. Hopefully this will be posted in the next few days.