Computing Insight UK: Lots of computing, insights, and nice to be back meeting in person!

In December EPCC was involved in attending and contributing to Computing Insight UK (CIUK) which was held in Manchester over two days. With players from across UK academia and industry, this annual conference focusses on the UK’s contribution to HPC and is a great opportunity to hear about new trends, technologies, and catch up with old friends (especially after being locked down for almost two years!)

EPCC had a booth at CIUK, with both Oliver and Juan doing a fantastic job manning this throughout the event. There were numerous questions and interesting discussions on the booth, ranging from our MSc courses in HPC and HPC and data-science, to the newly commissioned ARCHER2 machine and some of the exciting workloads that are already benefiting from the power that it delivers.


Arguably the main attraction of CIUK however is the technical programme, and this comprised a wide range of talks across the two days of the conference. The theme this year was heterogeneous computing and its role in HPC, with many of the speakers describing success stories and experiences of using such approaches in their own institutions or codes.

From EPCC there were two main talks contributed to the programme, the first was by EPCC’s director Mark Parsons who talked about the UK’s exascale project and how it is laying the foundation for an exascale supercomputer in the UK. The strategic importance of the work being undertaken here was described in detail, and I think many in the audience obtained a much clearer idea and potential roadmap for future UK endeavours in the exascale. The talk was concluded by a very interesting challenge around how we might think our of the box to make supercomputing greener, with Mark sharing some very exciting plans that EPCC has about this - but you will need to watch the video of his talk for details!


The other technical talk given from EPCC was by Nick Brown who described the role of Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) for accelerating HPC workloads. Considering the conference theme of heterogeneous computing this topic was topical, however FPGAs are yet to gain popularity for HPC workloads although there is some exciting progress being made in this regard. Nick described where he considers these architectures will contribute in accelerating future exascale workloads and also give a flavour of how one much rethink their algorithm to obtain best performance on the technology. Much of this presentation was based upon work undertaken by EPCC in the EXCELLERAT CoE and using the EXCALIBUR H&ES FPGA testbed, and can be watched online , with Nick’s talk concluding by offering those in the audience access to the testbed in order to explore porting their own scientific or engineering codes to FPGAs.

I must admit I really enjoyed CIUK this year, and I think the talks seemed all the more interesting and engaging because they were being delivered in person rather than over Zoom! But to some extent that’s probably unfair as irrespective the presentations were all at a very high standard especially as we were able to catch the speaker afterwards and chat about questions over coffee!