You can never underestimate the value of a cup of tea. Brendan Boulter, senior software consultant with Dell’s Cloud Innovation Centre and Professor Luke Drury, President of the Royal Irish Academy met for just that and it was during this cup of tea that the idea was floated to host an event for the High Performance Computing (HPC) community at the Dunsink Observatory under the auspices of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS).
On the 18th October Dell was very proud to host the event with 32 attendees representing a number of higher education bodies including Trinity college, UCD, DCU, Limerick University, the Tyndall institute and the Irish Centre for High End Computing (ICHEC).
The event was an unqualified success. The HPC community had never come together for an event dedicated to their subject. For many it was the first opportunity to talk with their peers about the challenges facing the community both in terms of technology and the support for the field in general.
After Dermot O’Connells’s introduction it was over to Steve Smith senior consultant for HPC with Dell. Steve is heavily engaged with the Cambridge HPC centre, a joint venture between Cambridge University and Dell.
Steve was able to bring real world examples of challenges facing the community from a technology stance. In particular the challenge presented by the increasing speed and number of cores in modern processors. The average layman would think that faster processors would be a good thing but to the HPC community they represent poor use of technology highlighting that processors have far out-stripped memory in performance and thereby spending as much as 60% of the time idle as they wait for the memory to feed more data to process.
Also serial processing is far more prevalent than parallel as the complexity of developing a parallel processing system is beyond the capabilities of current systems. It is not just a case of dividing the work up amongst the multiple cores. You also have to factor in the number of threads each core is capable of processing. How do you break up the workload when you have 32,000 possible threads.
So it was very interesting to hear they need fewer cores and even fewer processors. A single socket system with as few as 4 cores being preferred for most applications. That is until the time when we are better able to provide an operating system capable of massive parallel processing.
Following on from Steve was Dr Turlough Downes who did his utmost to make us feel like members of the cast of the Big Bang Theory. Turlough, whose area of expertise is Astrophysics, at one stage presented to the audience an equation that literally filled the wall. No prizes for guessing that I felt like I was playing the part of Penny to Turlough’s Sheldon Cooper. However the audience was fully engaged.
Full list of speakers:
- Dermot O’Connell– GM, Dell Ireland
- Steve Smith – Senior HPC Consultant, Dell
- Dr. Turlough Downes – Director of the SCI-SYM UDRC in DCU
- Mr. Ray Walshe, Director of Cloud Computing Research Centre (cloudCORE) at DCU
- Niall Wilson – ICHEC
- Marcel van Drunen – Dell
The highlight for me had to be the post event reception that was held in the Harbourmaster in the IFSC docklands area.
I was joined by a number of our guests for some food and a few refreshing beverages. All manner of topics were discussed but the most enthralling had to be Dimitri Perrin’s talk on data modelling the spread of virii and infection. The data models used are very complex and factor all elements of normal everyday human interaction. There is a real threat of a future pandemic but I was heartened to hear that the worse case scenario that Dimitri could conjure up was 40% of the population infected. Chief actions used to contain any outbreak would be the closing of all schools and issuing the population with face masks. It was these two actions that had successfully contained the swine flu outbreak in Mexico.