The Unofficial Guide To SC09 (Part One)

Your guide to navigating the coolest tradeshow on the planet.

The big HPC show is upon us. As a seasoned veteran, I thought I would provide some insights into the Supercomputing trade show experience — perhaps one of the coolest trade shows on the planet. First, let’s clear up one thing. While the show is called Supercomputing by many people, it is officially called “SC.” You will be hard pressed to find the word supercomputing on the SC09 web site. At one point in the past Supercomputing went away and was replaced by SC. I don’t know why. It seems to be one of those things that just happened.

If you are not attending SC, then stay tuned for my reports. I will be trying to twitter my way through the show. This is an experiment because normally I don’t post all that much. For the most part, I find the whole thing a little weird. Call me old school, but I think that you say something when you have something to say. I write what I want to say in columns like this, so brain droppings on twitter seems rather senseless to me. Plus, I can sum up what I do on daily basis in a few short sentences. Drink coffee. Take the dogs out. Write stuff. Talk on the phone. Drink coffee. Make to-do lists. Help a handful of clients. Read my to-do lists. Drink coffee. Read stuff. Reply to email. That is pretty much it. At least when I go to a trade show there will be something new and exciting to twitter about (in theory). And, I’ll be doing video at the show, which depending upon whom you ask is not necessarily a good thing™.

This year SC is in Portland, OR. I have been all over the country attending trade shows and when I tell people, “I’m going to (fill in the blank),” they politely say, “Oh (blank) is great city, you have to go to (fill in the blank) and do’t miss (fill in the blank).” I usually, sigh, then explain, that although I am going to these (mostly) nice cities, it is not a vacation. “I actually spend a large amount of my time in a really big hall with lots of blinking lights and fans. I could be in Hoboken, NJ for all I know. (Not that there is anything wrong with Hoboken).

There is the after hours night life, which will be covered next week. For the most part, traveling to other parts of the country is nice, I do manage to see some of the main attractions in the cities. Some of the social events try to integrated the local experience, but in general after a few beers, I could be in Hoboken.

Announcement Overwhelm
Any industry trade show generates its share of press releases. Indeed, there is often a “quiet period” in the months preceding the show where there is very little news. Then a week before the show, the emails and phone calls start. The news flow builds until Monday of the show where there is so much news I just get a complete sense of overwhelm. I have found it impossible to sift through all the news the week of the show. I often ask other people what they found interesting as there is just too many announcements to digest.

Which brings me to the other issue — useless press releases. Let me go on record and say that there are many important announcements at SC. Indeed, it seems that many of the “big companies” make “big” announcements that extend beyond the HPC world. These announcements give credence to the whole HPC market. Then there are the other announcements. I understand that companies need press releases at trade shows to help grab some portion of the limelight. And, I assume the plan is that someone like me will find and re-print your announcement about how your company now has Cloud enabled widgets (in blue). These announcements all show progress, which is great, but I’m always looking for the ones that offer something new or fundamental to the game.

Exhibit City
The exhibits are one of the more interesting parts of the show. SC is rather unique in that both vendors and customers (universities and national labs) have displays. There is, of course, a synergistic element in the HPC market, but I have always been puzzled as to why non-vendors (i.e. the customers) have displays. I do think it is a great idea because I believe conversations build community. One possible reason may be the competition for research dollars or just some good old fashioned public relations in the y HPC arena.

In any case, it takes some time to walk the exhibits. The big names are there along with some other interesting areas like the Disruptive Technologies Exhibits or the Student Cluster Competition. Keep an eye on some of the small vendors with big ideas in the low rent booth displays because sometimes they grow into big vendors (or get purchased by big vendors). One observation I have about SC is that almost all the companies bring members of their technical teams. If you have a question about a product, package, or benchmark, you can usually find a technically competent person with which to talk. You may have to come back or hunt them down, but you can finally meet some of the people who turn the gears.

Papers and Discussions
If I had more time, I would probably attend many of the papers because I like the hear about new ideas and the leading edge. In order to get into the conference portion of the show, you need a conference badge, which costs extra — a free exhibit badge won’t work. One of the best kept secrets of SC are the Birds Of a Feather (BOF) sessions, which are open to everyone. These are often informal presentations by individuals and groups. The discussions are open and the audience is invited to contribute. Al Gore is slated to present the key-note address on Thursday at 08:30 -10:00AM. A convenient time for most of us east coasters who have already been up for four hours.

I’ll end there for this week. Next week I’ll cover the Top500 list, cool booths, and the social aspects. (Yes, I know that is what you really want to hear about.) And, if everything fits together (literally), I hope to provide some news about where you can see the Limulus Project at SC09. Not to worry, I will prepare and distribute a press release in case you miss the show.

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