On the trail to exascale

Last week as a part of the STFC Hartree Centre’s goal to help UK businesses and organisations of any size to explore and adopt emerging technologies to enhance productivity and economic growth we hosted an exascale workshop. 

The way we solve global challenges like clean energy, decarbonising the economy and drug or material discovery can be revolutionised with exascale computing. Exascale computing can process larger quantities of data faster than ever before and the technologies that are being developed for exascale can help accelerate innovation across UK organisations. Our workshop shared the latest advances in exascale technologies bringing together people from industry, academia and the public sector with our high-performance computing (HPC) experts. We created a space for industry to talk and collaborate with visitors from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), UK supercomputing centres, and US representatives from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). It was exciting to see people from so many different sectors working together to improve the way we live and talk about how emerging HPC technologies can help businesses face global challenges.

This event has managed to bring together scientific communities, technical experts from both the UK and international counterparts as well as industry. It has got a lot of people who are all trying to improve quality of life and address challenges like green energy, that can only really be addressed with the use of exascale computers. Being able to get all these people together, sharing ideas and progress has been what this event has been about, and it has been it has been really interesting.

Shaun De Witt, UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) 

The workshop kicked off with Vassil Alexandrov, our Chief Science Officer and Sue Thorne, Team Leader and Computational Scientist sharing how the journey to exascale computing is impacting HPC research practices and what this means for UK industry. Exascale computing technologies can help organisations model more detailed simulations faster than ever before, helping to accelerate innovation.  

To help industry adopt emerging exascale technologies, the Hartree Centre supports digital innovation across several industry areas ranging from environmental energy production to material discovery. It is important that we collaborate with businesses of all sizes to help businesses explore and integrate novel HPC systems and skills.

Vassil Alexandrov 
Vassil Alexandrov and Sue Thorne

Over the two days, members of our team Nuno Nobre and Sergi Siso presented the latest advances in programming models SYCL and Kokkos and how they can facilitate innovation in sectors including health care, transport and logistics. We also heard presentations from US visiting experts, Tzanio Kolev from LLNL and Damien Lebrun-Grandie from ORNL, to talk about their experience using Kokkos and how its portability can help organisations to accelerate their work processes. 

Nuno Nobre
Sergi Siso

The audience instantly found these programming presentations helpful, with Alex Blair from UKAEA saying: 

Today has been very useful, there is so much I can take back to test out and speed up our workload that I would not have been exposed to without being here.

Wednesday showed no sign of slowing down with Tom Deakin, from the University of Bristol, talking about the need to future proof our technology by increasing collaboration and standardising industry approaches. 

There is a need to plan for and invest in continual diversity and to demand cross-industry, open standard approaches, we need to work together.

Dr Tom Deakin, Lecturer University of Bristol

Mark Parsons talked about a decade of exascale preparations at Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC), and some of the challenges UK industry faces on the road to exascale computing, such as helping SMEs adopt emerging technologies. 

There was also the opportunity for industry, academia and the public sector to meet and discuss potential collaborations. 

What we are doing is trying to get the people we do not know to be able to try out our software. Workshops like this are great to hear from different perspectives on attacking exascale in ways I hadn’t thought of. The UK has some of the same exascale challenges that we are also solving in the US, making it an opportunity for collaboration, and we should keep having workshops and discussions like these they are really useful.

Erik Draeger, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 
(left to right) Erik Draeger, Paul Calleja, Alison Kennedy, Mark Wilkinson and Vassil Alexandrov

The workshop was rounded off with a lively panel discussion about the future adoption of exascale technologies across industries, and the need to make the workforce more diverse. 

Exascale computing offers everyone the opportunity to do calculations faster or on a larger scale, there is a huge amount of potential benefit for industries of any size. The challenge is helping particularly smaller companies getting over the initial hurdles, by making these technologies more accessible. This workshop was really helpful in getting us in the UK to learn from some of our US counterparts and hopefully this will help us to engage better with industry.

Mark Wilkinson, DiRAC

This workshop was a part of our Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation EXPLAIN training programme. 

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