Scientific supercomputing in the spotlight
Almost 250 researchers flocked to the first PASC conference at ETH Zurich to take part in an interdisciplinary meeting on the use of high-performance computing (HPC) in computational science. The success of the conference, and particularly the tremendous turnout, signifies for the organisers that there exists a strong demand for such knowledge exchange in Europe.
June 12, 2014 - by Simone Ulmer
High-performance computing power has increased relentlessly in the last two decades. Twenty years ago, a “supercomputer” could perform only a few billion mathematical operations per second, but today’s class of high-performance computers can manage several quadrillion in the same amount of time. And it is predicted that this figure will increase another thousand-fold by the end of the decade. However, experts agree that further increases in efficiency cannot be achieved solely through hardware: computer algorithms and software also need to be adapted to the latest systems, which is only possible if users and developers (of both hardware and software) work together – a point the roughly 250 domain scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists and hardware manufacturers from Switzerland and abroad who attended the first PASC Conference at ETH Zurich on 2-3 June seem to agree upon.
A common concern
According to the organisers, the aim of the conference was to bring together scientists from the various research domains where computer-aided research is conducted in order to promote interdisciplinary collaboration and boost the exchange of expertise in HPC. For Olaf Schenk, a professor at the Università della Svizzera italiana and co-organiser of the event, the fact that the first conference attracted so many participants is a clear sign that its theme is an important one for many researchers.
Although PASC is a Swiss project, where scientists and developers of software applications for scientific simulation team up with applied mathematicians, computer scientists, Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) and hardware manufacturers, the conference also attracted many international researchers from physics, computer science, mathematics, climate, earth science, materials and life science – the main research domains targeted in the project.
Despite their varied scientific domains, the researchers attending the conference all share a common problem: as supercomputers become increasingly more powerful they look to solve increasingly larger and more complex problems. Supercomputers are consuming ever more power, and if the software applications being used are not efficient, then electricity costs increase accordingly.