Wednesday, July 24, 2013

XSEDE’13 in San Diego – when super heros met supercomputers

There aren’t too many conferences where you meet Batman, Dr Who and the Wicked Witch of the West while still checking into the hotel. XSEDE’13 in San Diego this year overlapped with the famous Comic Con event right next door – so caped super heros marching past in the lobby was apparently part of the deal. Comic Con attracts over 120,000 participants every year, XSEDE slightly fewer at 700. But this is an ever rising number year on year, as project leader John Towns was pleased to point out. And I have a suspicion that the categories of ‘comic book nerds’ and ‘IT geeks’ are perhaps not entirely mutually exclusive sets…

XSEDE, the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, is a National Science Foundation-supported project that brings together supercomputers, data collections, and computational tools and services to support science and engineering research and education. The annual XSEDE conference focuses on the science, education, outreach, software, and technology used by the XSEDE and other related communities worldwide.

The programme kicked off with a day of well attended tutorials – with a 200-strong host of students at the event, the training opportunities were well appreciated, as was the opportunity to showcase their work in poster sessions and competitions. Even younger participants were catered for by a morning robotics class, “Ready, Set, Robotical” which I was more than tempted to join.

Training is always a strong theme at XSEDE, and the challenges of providing online courses in parallel computing were discussed, as well as developing undergraduate and graduate programmes in computational science. Campus champions are the backbone of outreach on a regional basis, and XSEDE is now looking to expand the scheme into subject specific champions. This emerged as a theme for future collaboration between XSEDE and the European Grid Infrastructure in the Birds of a Feather session. EGI recently set up an EGI Champions scheme, including representatives from fields as disparate as life sciences, environmental sciences and maths. Other areas where EGI and XSEDE expect to work together include federated high throughput data analysis, federated clouds and user support. One use case already in progress covers HPC-HTC workflows for the computational chemistry community. This was one of the joint use cases that emerged in the call issued at the beginning of the year. So there's lots to watch out for, even now the caped crusaders have (mostly) left town.

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