Supercomputing 2014 in New Orleans

By Marijke Unger
12/04/2014 - 12:00am

This year’s Supercomputing Conference (SC14), held in New Orleans during the week of November 17th, was a record-setting conference, with over 10,000 attendees, hundreds of exhibitors, and the fastest network in the world. NCAR’s booth, staffed by CISL personnel, hosted a series of talks and was part of a scavenger hunt for students and a stop on the Intel technology tour.

The exhibit floor, with nearly 142,000 square feet, is a hub of bright lights, presentations, sales pitches, games, swag, and generalized chaos. Boasting everything from a U.S. Indycar and beautiful motorcycles to sales reps dressed up in alien costumes, the exhibit area is also home to the NCAR booth, which is set up with a running video stream, interactive kiosk, and work and meeting space for staff and their guests.

Student Cluster compentition

SC14 featured a Student Cluster Competition, a real-time, non-stop, 48-hour challenge in which teams of undergraduate and/or high school students design and build a small cluster on the exhibit floor and compete to demonstrate the greatest sustained performance across a series of applications. The competition is designed to introduce the next generation of students to the high-performance community.

This year’s official conference photo stream provides a sense of the public face of the SC event. Missing from the photo lineup is another key part of what happens at SC: technical conversations, and private meetings with vendors, some requiring specific non-disclosure agreements, that provide information about future HPC developments. These meetings allow CISL staff to get a sense of the future technology landscape, and are critical for operational planning and procurements.

CISL staff members also participate in SC’s Student Job Fair, talking to students and job seekers about educational, internship, and employment opportunities at NCAR and UCAR. The Student Job Fair event is open to all students and postdocs participating in the SC14 Conference.

SC14 Job Fair

CISL’s Raghu Raj Prasanna Kumar and Kristin Mooney engage with students and postdocs during the SC14 Student Job Fair.


NCAR Booth Talks

The booth presentations included science and computation talks about CESM, aerodynamics and wind energy simulations on Yellowstone, and GPU effectiveness for data assimilation. Other topics included HPC education, a demonstration of VAPOR for big data applications, and a status update on the procurement of NCAR’s next supercomputer.

Jean-François Lamarque, NCAR Chief Scientist for CESM, presented recent findings of computationally intensive climate modeling projects running on Yellowstone. He illustrated how winds peel off streamers of high moisture content from the tropics and carry them to the mid latitudes. These “atmospheric rivers” flow towards the U.S. west coast and are estimated to be responsible for roughly 30% of the region’s annual precipitation.

CESM was also used to examine how ripples that occur in a stratified fluid, known as gravity waves, influence atmospheric circulation. These waves, which resemble ripples on a pond as a stone is tossed in, are caused by disturbances in the troposphere that amplify as they rise, until the waves break more than 100 kilometers above the surface in the stratosphere and above.

Jean François Lamarque

Jean-François Lamarque, CESM Chief Scientist, describes coupled ocean-atmosphere simulations that were done using the Yellowstone Supercomputer.

Among other things, gravity waves can shape clouds, but they are also an important mechanism in mixing energy, momentum, and chemicals as they break. This mixing, in turn, influences stratospheric circulation and temperature.

Shifting from planetary to regional- and human-scale research, Andrew Kirby, a graduate student from the University of Wyoming (UW) discussed his team’s research on the aerodynamics of wind turbines and helicopter rotors. The helicopter project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, examined ways of improving the efficiency of helicopter rotor systems while mitigating negative characteristics through shape and configuration changes.

The team was able to repurpose the algorithms developed for that project to model airflow and turbulence in wind turbines, an exercise with important applications for wind energy development. The model, which required one million CPU hours for 30 revolutions, simulates turbulence generated from the wake of each turbine, allowing planners to analyze optimal siting and configuration of wind farms, and is the only simulation of a full wind farm using a full rotor model to date.

CISL’s John Clyne provided a demonstration of VAPOR’s capabilities for elegantly addressing the challenges of working with very large data sets. VAPOR offers a “terabytes from the desktop” solution, where desktop computing resources can be used to operate on terascale sized simulations. The software, which can be used for a multitude of scientific disciplines, is based on a wavelet transform that allows users to extract meaningful and compact representations of the data.

Ye Feng, a student at UW and SIParCS summer intern, gave a talk about her research to accelerate part of the Data Assimilation Research Testbed (DART) on Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). By implementing a new algorithm better suited to general-purpose GPU’s, she was able to obtain a 10.9 times speedup relative to the original serial code running on a conventional Xeon processor. Feng presented her work earlier this year at the Rocky Mountain High Performance Computing Symposium, where her poster won top honors and her prize included an all expenses paid trip to New Orleans to attend SC14.

Raghu Raj, a CISL Student Assistant, gave a talk about the project he worked on with three other students during the summer, building low-cost Raspberry Pi clusters for parallel computing applications. Raj described their research experiences using Raspberry Pi components to study supercomputing performance issues. His presentation illustrated the importance of HPC education in forming a future workforce and helping students develop the skills necessary for tackling scientific computing.

The presentation that garnered the largest industry audience was Shawn Strande’s discussion of the NWSC-2 Procurement, a topic he described in last month’s issue, and will present to CISL staff during a special CISL seminar Thursday December 11, from 10am - 11am in the ML Main Seminar Room. The talk will be a town hall style meeting that will outline the elements of the procurement, and give staff an opportunity to comment and ask questions. It will also be webcast for those unable to attend in person.


Behind the “SCenes”

Pulling off a conference as big and as technologically challenging as SC requires immense advance planning, coordination, and logistical talent. Many CISL staff members work quietly behind the scenes to make SC’s infrastructure and NCAR’s booth presence a success.

Gary New has been working on SC infrastructure since 2001, when Ginger Caldwell was Infrastructure Chair and asked him to help ensure that the electrical setup was on track. He’s in charge of electrical matters for the entire conference, which translated to safely and reliably provisioning 4MW of power at SC14. This is a conference that turns convention centers into data centers, which they aren’t designed to be.

The NCAR booth is managed by Kristin Mooney, who coordinates the space acquisition each year, oversees equipment rental, ensures materials are in working order and shipped on schedule, and coordinates talks in the booth and participation in the student job fair. Marcia Killingsworth volunteered to staff the SC Committee office, which serves as a central communication hub for all aspects of the conference and coordinates all logistics, including conference speakers, awards, program, infrastructure, and planning for future years. Marcia also helped with the NCAR booth set-up, teardown, and staffing logistics, along with Steve Geinosky and Matt Rehme, who provided technological support for the interactive kiosk, video, and audio requirements.

Gary New, Kristin Mooney and Marcia Killingsworth

CISL staff contribute to the success of the NCAR booth and of the conference as a whole. Pictured here are Gary New, Kristin Mooney, and Marcia Killingsworth.

John Hernandez from NETS goes to the conference venue early to help with SCInet setup each year. SCInet is the nervous system of the conference, and is critical to its success. This year’s conference boasted the fastest computer network in the world, delivering over 1.3 terabits per second of bandwidth to conference attendees, allowing them to run data-intensive applications and high performing hardware demonstrations.

Planning for SCInet begins over a year ahead of the conference, and expert volunteers from around the world design, build, and operate the network. This year, SCInet required over 100 engineers, $18 million in equipment and more than 80 miles of freshly installed fiber optic cable. SCInet also provides wireless access for the nearly 11,000 attendees at the conference.


SCInet, the fastest computer network in the world, makes data intensive applications possible at the Supercomputing Conference.John has worked with the SCInet WAN team for three years, and this year was the only NCAR person in the group. In the past, NETS staff members have helped with the fiber optic installation, most notably in 2012 when budget sequestration by the federal governement decimated the ranks of SC volunteers.

Next year’s Supercomputing Conference will be held at the Convention Center in Austin, Texas, November 15-20.