Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Inside the Broader Engagement program of the Supercomputing Conference

The Supercomputing Conference (SC) that just took place last week in New Orleans was a highly successful event where the brightest minds in high performance computing presented outstanding research. This event should not be missed by those working in cutting-edge research on supercomputers. However, the flight to USA and a week of hosting plus other expenses is a significant cost that not all young scientists can afford. Fortunately, the SC series offers help to those passionate about supercomputers that want to learn, exchange, and present novel ideas about HPC: the Broader Engagement (BE) program tries to increase the diversity of the HPC community by offering financial support to a large number of persons from different backgrounds (as long as they have a legitimate interest in HPC).

In order to offer our readers a clear idea of what the BE program of the SC conference has to offer; we interviewed Javier Iparraguirre, who just attended SC14 under the BE program. Javier received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Universidad Nacional del Sur in Argentina. He was awarded a Master scholarship by the Fulbright Comission in 2005 and received a Master in Computer Science from the University of Illinois in Chicago. He currently teaches programming to Electrical and Computer Engineering students at Universidad Tecnológica Nacional and Universidad Nacional del Sur in Argentina.  

Q: How did you know about the SC Conference? 

A: While I was talking to other colleagues, I heard that SC is the best HPC conference in the world. From that moment I started following all the news related to the event (social media, RSS feeds, and blogs).

Q: How did you learn about the BE program?

A: I learned about BE program from the SC14 website. 

Q: How was your experience at SC14? Was the BE program useful to you?

A: The experience was life-changing. First of all, I met the most famous people in the supercomputing world such as Jack Dongarra and Bill Gropp. Then, the BE program helped me to understand the actual state of the research and development involved in HPC. Finally, I met a lot of people with similar objectives and motivations.

Q: What did you like the most? What could be improved?

A: The most relevant fact that I want to highlight is the opportunity to meet people with similar interests. It is an excellent place to interact and learn about HPC. One aspect to improve is to add multiple tracks in the BE program. The selected people included a wide range of ages and education levels. On one extreme you could find undergraduate students and on the other extreme of the spectrum there were professors. Adding multiple tracks may be helpful for all BE participants. 

Q: Is there any advice you would like to share for future SC and BE attendants?

A: My advice is to apply. After your submission is accepted, get involved in all activities proposed in the BE program. You will not regret it. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

STIC-AmSud - Funding collaborations in Latin America

One of the main difficulties to the development of collaborations in HPC research in Latin America is funding, as investments in infrastructure and research missions are subpar. Nevertheless, there is no reason to despair and forfeit, as there are frameworks to improve collaborations, such as STIC-AmSud.

The Regional Program STIC-AmSud is a cooperation initiative between France and South American countries started in 2005. It currently includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Its main objective is to promote and strengthen collaborations in the field of Information and Communication Science and Technology. This is done by funding missions and exchanges among Latin American countries, and also with France. In order to promote long-lasting cooperation networks, the participation of young researchers is favored. Although STIC-AmSud is not focused on HPC only, it has funded HPC projects before, such as South-American Grid for the Brazilian Regional Atmospheric Modeling System  and Semantic Web Analytics: Processing Big Data on Energy Consumption.

STIC-AmSud has yearly calls for proposals of two years projects. Proposals must include at least one French research group and at least two Latin American research groups belonging to different participating countries. Approved projects receive between 10,000 € and 15,000 € per year to pay solely for travel expenses (flights, lodging, meals) between the participating institutions.

Although the call for proposals for projects starting in 2015 has already ended, the next call for 2016 should open in the next months and end by mid 2015. To stay informed, please check STIC-AmSud's official website and keep an eye on your own national funding agency.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

RISC Project: let's build HPC together

"If you don't compute, you don't compete", that is how Mateo Valero, a seasoned HPC expert and the director of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, summarizes the fundamental need to develop HPC infrastructure and develop science, engineering, government, and industry in the modern society. However, for some regions - Latin America among them - it is hard to keep up with the relentless development of powerful machines in other latitudes. To bridge this gap, sometimes it is necessary to build a network of stakeholders that share a common goal, agree to team up, and work in conjunction to provide all the actors in society with the right computing infrastructure that make all of them competitive.

That goal was among the main drivers behind the RISC project. A group of European and Latin American organizations worked together to understand the limitations, actors, and opportunities of HPC in Latin America. During more than 2 years, these groups worked in identifying the key components of a successful HPC initiative in Latin America. Among the specific goals of RISC project were: a) strengthen the cooperation between Europe and Latin America through the construction of a community to increase capacity, awareness, networking, and training; b) asses the drivers and needs of HPC in Latin America; c) make a roadmap for HPC development in Latin America; d) identify research clusters in Latin America; and e) paving the road for a dialogue between the research communities and the policy makers.

The RISC project identified research communities that were hungry for computing power, and that would benefit from access to HPC resources. The main areas pinned down by the project were: a) computational biology, b) oil exploration modeling, c) modeling and simulation of natural disasters, d) innovation in technology.

Another important contribution of the RISC project was a green paper on recommendations to develop HPC in Latin America. The paper suggests reducing the gap in HPC infrastructure in the region compared to the global leaders by consolidating a joint infrastructure in the whole region. Such infrastructure should follow a hierarchy with three layers of HPC resources (national, regional, and local), with the first layer of most powerful supercomputers being shared among users in the different countries. A more urgent recommendation in the paper is to obtain access to leadership facilities in other places to avoid the exodus of well trained and competitive scientists and engineers. In addition, the paper stresses the importance of developing training programs, constructing open-source software, pushing forward the discussion on policy making for HPC infrastructure, consolidating cooperation agreements with other entities, and more.

To know more about the RISC project and the green paper, please visit the project's webpage http://www.risc-project.eu

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Successful SuperComputing-Camp at the Coffee Triangle in Colombia

Over 70 young minds gathered and camped at the Super Computing and Distributed Computing Camp (SC-Camp) this year. The event was hosted by the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Center (BIOS) located at the Natural Park Los Yarumos, in Manizales, Colombia. The Natural Park Los Yarumos is located in the Colombian Coffee Growing Axis (also known as the Coffee Triangle) which produces the majority of the world-famous Colombian Coffee. Speakers from USA, Brazil and Venezuela gave state-of-the-art talks in various domains including parallel computing and computational science. Students from 9 Colombian universities had the opportunity to learn cutting-edge technologies and made new friendships that can lead to future research collaborations.

The event was strongly supported by important industry actors such as Intel, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. Representatives from these companies presented to the young generation, new high performance technologies that they are developing and pushing into the market. “It is very exiting to have the opportunity to approach the new players in the programming world, one can feel this very good energy, the capacity and desire to learn.” said Hugues Hugo Morin from Intel.

For the students, it was a memorable experience. “I leave SC-Camp with new friends and more knowledge, this was the first step for something big.” said Julian Hernando Henao, participant from the University of Caldas. “I had the opportunity to learn new methodologies in topics related to computer science, parallel programming and big data, opening several exploratory directions where one can develop new research.” said Maria Alejandra Munoz, participant of the National University of Colombia in Manizales. For many of them, the experience of SC-Camp will continue, as they develop collaborations in new topics of research relevant to their careers and the local needs of their community.

For BIOS, it was a great honor to host SC-Camp, which gained national interest as large Colombian media groups diffused the news about the event and the support of the local authorities for such initiatives. It is important to keep promoting these types of activities in order to pave the way for the future generation of professionals in high performance computing, so that they can have a strong positive impact in the region, the country and hopefully in the world.