More than 200 computer scientists gathered at this year’s IEEE International Conference on Cluster Computing (Cluster 2013), held in Indianapolis Indiana, US, and hosted by Indiana University’s Pervasive Technology Institute. David Keyes, professor of applied mathematics and computer science at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Saudi Arabia, presented this year’s keynote.
“Computing at scale,” Keyes says, “is as essential to 21st century research universities, as breathing is to any person.” Yet among a new crop of research universities it’s surprisingly rare. Keyes is the founding dean of the division of Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering at KAUST, a public university founded in 2009 and focused on graduate education and research.
KAUST is a purposely-planned university designed to address four sustainability pillars – water, food, environment, and energy. These issues belong not just to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but to all of humanity, and KAUST is addressing them using technology, and computational science. Keyes recognized that the future of his university and others around the world would be dependent, in large part, upon the work and progress made by the computer scientists and students attending Cluster 2013.
Jessie Walker, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), US, shared his approach to scientific computation with attendees. “Since 2009 I have focused on expanding the availability and knowledge of cyberinfrastructure (CI) resources at our undergraduate campus. We’ve made CI the focus of a core class in each domain. For example, all biology students must take bioinformatics to graduate, all business students must take a core CI class including big data,” says Walker. UAPB is now drawing students interested in computer and computational science from Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and South Africa.
“To affect a fundamental culture shift, as a faculty member, over such a short timeframe is unheard of,” says Henry Neeman, director of the Oklahoma University Supercomputing Center for Education and Research (OSCER), US. “It is a huge accomplishment for Walker and Pine Bluff.” In October, Walker and the university community are planning to celebrate the launch of Apollo, UAPB’s first supercomputer.
Recognizing the computational challenges of the 21st century and beyond, conference chairs put together a strong student program, funded in part by the US National Science Foundation and the Pervasive Technology Institute. Scholarships, including those for undergraduates, supported student attendance from more than 18 universities spanning the globe, including China, South Africa, and the US.
“The opportunities to speak with faculty and scientists from various universities have been extremely insightful,” says Aderogba Ademiluyi, who is preparing for the future and graduate studies. “I can speak directly with faculty and scientists about the programs at Clemson for example, or Colorado. It’s encouraging.” The technical workshops provided the hands-on experience and motivation James Wrenn was looking for. “The GPU Computing with CUDA & C/C++ workshop was completely hands-on and the instructor was phenomenal; right out of the gate I was learning and building on what I already knew.”
Vojislav Stojkovic, professor of computer science at Morgan State University in Baltimore Maryland, US, accompanied both students to the conference. “Events like this are what students need to be able to see and learn the technology, to ask questions, to be included and mentored. It is a tremendous opportunity for our students.”
Special events and facility tours of the Informatics & Communications Technology Complex on the Indiana University Purdue University campus kicked off the weeklong mentor program. Graduate and undergraduate students alike participated in more than 40 available technical workshops and presentations, along with paper submissions, plenary talks, and an eye-catching visualization showcase.
Cluster 2013 also provided an opportunity for students and educators at schools and colleges across the state, to build powerful, ready-to-run LittleFe clusters and work with the Bootable Cluster CD (BCCD), both developed at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. The workshop focused on use-cases for LittleFe in education, outreach and training, and on developing curriculum modules for the LittleFe/BCCD platform.
“The conference focus on students and education this year is unparalleled,” says Craig Stewart, conference chair and executive director of Indiana University’s Pervasive Technology Institute. “To overcome the tremendous barrier to scientific and industrial progress in the US and around the world, we absolutely need more students pursuing cluster technology and computational science.”
“With help from the US National Science Foundation we were able to add a new education, outreach, and training papers track this year, and we received excellent submissions on the role clusters play in education, not just in computer science but in a broad host of other fields as well.”
Science is forever giving complicated new birth to itself, but for revelations to emerge and sustain the world it is the scientist – computer or computational – who lives and breathes new life into each discovery. It remains to be seen if science will live by cluster computing alone, but one thing is clear; scientists will breathe a lot easier with it.