November 20, 2006

SC06: A Beowulf cluster of supercomputer people

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

SC06, "the premier international conference on high performance computing, networking and storage," was held last week in Tampa, Florida. I took my video camera with me so that I could give you a little feeling of what the show was like, and even grabbed a couple of shots of the "by invitation only" Beowulf Users Group party that was held at a bar a few blocks away from the Tampa Convention Center.

Opening Gala video tour - click to view video

Chris Cox talks about supercomputer shopping - click to view video

Joab Jackson of Government Computer News - click to view video

Although the commonly-stated attendance figure of "over 9,000" was not quite true -- an actual count by the organizers came up with more like 8,500, including exhibitors and press hangers-on like me -- this is still a huge Beowulf cluster of people interested in supercomputing, and if all the clustered and "big iron" computers in the 250 vendor displays had been wired together, you could have had a Beowulf cluster of Beowulf clusters that would not only have boggled any sane person's mind, but would have caused near-instant deafness from all the cooling fan noise.

HPCWire did a fine show wrapup story. I see no reason to repeat what they said. The latest "Top 500 Supercomputer Sites" list was unveiled, and Joab Jackson of Government Computer News had something interesting to say about it.

As you might imagine, Supercomputing Online had a lot of SC06 coverage. There was plenty of other SC06 news, too, although much of it was of the press release variety. But then, this supercomputing stuff has become Big Business lately.

Not that many years ago, Cray (which was at SC06, still alive and kicking) might have been the only exhibitor at a supercomputing expo, and there might have been a few hundred attendees at most -- and they probably would have needed high-level security clearances to get into the room. Now, it seems that every university must have its own supercomputer, and while "Beowulf Cluster" may have become part of a Slashdot punchline, clustering is the technology that has brought supercomputing prices down to the point where the masses (or at least the academic and corporate masses) can get in on the crunching-giant-numbers game without multi-million dollar grants from the Department of Defense and other federal government agencies.

The Beowulf Party in full swing - click to view video

Enough text for the moment. Let's take a brief (4:30) video tour of the show floor during the "Opening Gala."

Chris Cox, from the University of Nebraska, was shopping for his University's next supercomputer.

We mentioned Joab Jackson of Government Computer News. He graciously talked to our camera for a few minutes (3:45 to be exact) and gave us his take on SC06.

And here, shot in terrible light, shakily hand-held all the way, is a three-minute glimpse of the (in)famous Beowulf Party.

Editor's note: Robin was forced to cut his show coverage short due to illness -- nothing serious, but he spent less than 1/4 of the time he wanted to spend covering SC06.

Click Here!