Research Highlight

East Tennessee Members to Form First-of-Its-Kind Regional Computing Association

August 28, 2018 – With the combined mind share and facilities of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee, East Tennessee has long been a bastion for high-performance computing (HPC).

For ORNL’s part, the Department of Energy’s largest science and energy laboratory has stood up three of the world’s fastest computers, and its latest champion—Summit—is hailed as the “smartest,” or most AI-compatible, supercomputer ever designed.

The pedigree of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), in HPC is also exceptionally strong. Along with UTK’s National Institute for Computational Science (NICS), its Innovative Computing Laboratory (ICL), founded by Prof. Jack Dongarra in 1989, is an internationally recognized research group specializing in numerical linear algebra, distributed computing, and performance evaluation and benchmarking.

Building on the strong spirit of collaboration in scientific computing that has developed among these organizations over the years, a group of East Tennessee computing researchers, including several ORNL staff and University of Tennessee faculty, is moving to form the first regional chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on High-Performance Computing (SIGHPC).

SIGHPC describes itself as “the first international group within a major professional society that is devoted exclusively to the needs of students, faculty, researchers, and practitioners in HPC . . . to help spread the use of HPC, help raise the standards of the profession, and help ensure a rich and rewarding career for people involved in the field.”

Appalachian HPC, as the area chapter will be known, is composed of member institutions across the region including the University of Tennessee–Knoxville (UTK), the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee Tech University, and others.

It was this unusual concentration of computing expertise in a relatively small area that inspired Jeff Nichols, ORNL’s Associate Laboratory Director for Computing and Computational Sciences who serves on the advisory board of SIGHPC, to suggest the chapter.

“Despite the concentration of computing talent in the region, most connections were ad hoc and personal,” said Matthew Wolf of ORNL’s Scientific Data Group.

Wolf is now working with Terry Moore, Associate Director of ICL, and other stakeholders to draft a charter proposal for the regional SIGHPC chapter. Once ACM approves the charter document, the new group will be official, making Appalachian HPC the first organization of its kind to formally link the computing expertise of Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Cookeville.

“An alliance with an ACM professional society opens up enormous professional development opportunities for the region’s immense talent,” said Nichols. “At the same time, these development opportunities benefit professional societies, and computing as a whole, by growing future society fellows and leaders throughout the high-performance computing community.”

An initial stakeholder meeting was attended by 60 people and brought about three overarching goals for the chapter charter:

  • Knowledge Exchange—sharing knowledge and technical context among members and activities such as flash talks, regional conferences, and vendor presentations.
  • Workforce Development—sharing HPC expertise with students as well as professionals in related spheres and activities such as hackathons, training sessions, and mentorships.
  • Community Building—developing professional and personal rapport and activities such as an awards committee, social meet-up-style networking, and a shared web presence.

“We thought these three goals served as a nice summary of the value people saw in this group,” said Wolf, adding that if all goes well the chapter should officially launch in the fall with around 100 initial members, adding yet another “first” for a region with a knack for breaking new ground.

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