ISC High Performance 2017: Switzerland shows its research potential

As reported by the media Switzerland obtained the 3rd rank in the Top500 (https://www.top500.org/lists/2017/06/) list of the fastest computers published at this years ISC High Performance conference. The supercomputer Piz Daint at CSCS (Centro Svizzero di Calcolo Scientifico) is maintained by our colleagues in Lugano, who also brought in their experiences to co-design and improve the system.

Building a big machine which is able to reproduce a compute intensive benchmark is one thing. Making compute power to enable and improve science another. This years ISC High Performance showed that Switzerland is not only a leading nation in having fast computers but also in achieving scientific results on and by high performance computing. Counting the submission of scientific papers Switzerland again ranked third after Germany and the United States, one paper ahead of Japan. All in all a big success of the HPCN (High Performance Computing and Networking) strategy initiated by the Confederation in 2007.
The big topic – some would say buzz word – of the conference was AI – Artificial Intelligence or better the use of supercomputer systems in AI. In the last few years scientists start to make use of AI algorithms especially of so-called Deep Learning (DL) levering artificial neuronal networks (ANNs, DNN respectively). Until recently this kind of research was focused on single server systems. As several presentations at the conference showed the use of supercomputers in this field is an emerging topic. HPC systems with GPU (graphical processor unit) nodes – as Piz Daint, or on a smaller scale the Leonhard systems run by IT-SIS – are very well suited for this kind of applications. Piz Daint was mentioned several times as a reference architecture bringing together established high performance networks with the specific compute power of GPUs. But also the systems by MeteoSwiss are worth to mention. They are currently prepared to use AI algorithms for short term local weather forecasts.
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Another important emerging topic at the conference was personalized health or as it also called precision medicine. In a workshop on precision medicine I realized that ETH is well positioned in this field. Leonhard Med as HPC system specifically designed for the needs of personalized health is a big achieving, which giving our research workers a world class environment.
The Swiss booth at ISC high performance has been even better visited as all the years before. Piz Daint which dominated the booth naming CSCS and ETH Zurich as main sponsors was the eye cacher. Nevertheless hpc-ch the forum of the Swiss High Performance computing providers was still visibly present at the Swiss booth. It shows that Piz Daint is just the tip – or better Piz – of the Swiss HPC ecosystem.

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