KAUST presents exascale expertise at SC21

KAUST was among the exhibitors at the America's Center as part of SC21, the annual international supercomputing conference, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo: KAUST

​Supercomputing experts from KAUST converged with global participants at the America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri from November 14 to 19 for SC21, the annual international conference for high performance computing (HPC), networking, storage and analysis.

Established in 1988, the SC conference is the largest HPC event of its kind, with big name industries like Intel, Red Hat and Oracle sharing the exhibition floor alongside universities, government agencies and small businesses, and professionals from various affiliations attending presentations throughout the convention center. In non-pandemic years, attendance typically swells to 13,000. This year's hybrid event drew nearly 4000 people in person.

This is the 13th year that KAUST has attended. The first, in 2008, underscored the university's commitment to be a supercomputing presence in the Arab world before it had formally opened its doors or even acquired Shaheen, its first supercomputer.

Flash forward to today, it's an exciting time for KAUST to be involved in HPC in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the field is propelling research across a broad range of scientific disciplines. The Middle East now hosts eight supercomputers in the top 500 globally, including the current #10 and former #7 ranked supercomputer — an investment that is fomenting a shift toward a knowledge-based economy and preparing the exascale workforce in the Arab world.

SC21 media crew interview KAUST Professor of Computer Science Mootaz Elnozahy about supercomputing research at KAUST and its influence in the Middle East region. Photo: KAUST

KAUST is part of this shift. Supercomputing has helped KAUST conduct research in just about every branch of science. More than half of the university faculty advance their research using KAUST's supercomputer Shaheen II, a Cray XC40 system ranked among the top 100 supercomputers in the world. Top areas of use include fluid dynamics and clean combustion, materials science, geoscience, bioscience, weather systems and artificial intelligence.

Students are drawn to study supercomputing at KAUST, not only for the caliber faculty and sophisticated hardware available to them, but also for cross-disciplinary exchange and hands-on opportunities to evolve software applications. KAUST graduates are contributing to a "flying embers effect" of talent across the Middle East, landing choice positions in academia, industry and government, and forging new collaborations with KAUST through their jobs.

KAUST Extreme Computing Research Center Director David Keyes with Ph.D. student Rabab Alomairy at the KAUST booth, SC21, St. Louis, MO. Photo: KAUST

At SC21, KAUST faculty, computational scientists, doctoral students and student interns from the KAUST Gifted Student Program shared expertise through panel discussions, booth talks and panel, a paper, Birds of Feather (BoF) presentation, technical sessions and workshops, with additional opportunities for social exchange at the opening gala and gatherings both on and off site. Representing KAUST faculty and computational scientists were Drs. Bilel Hadri, Hatem Ltaief, Ravi Samtaney, Panagiotis (Panos) Kalnis, Mootaz Elnozahy and David Keyes, with Marc Genton attending remotely. Doctoral students Rabab Alomairy, Yuxhi Hong and Marcin Rogowski of computer science also attended.

Hot topics included:

  • Challenges at the extreme scale, with a focus on hardware evolutions and "extreme heterogeneity" driving software advancements.
  • Developments at the interface of statistics and supercomputing.
  • The rise of computational science in medical advances.
  • The expanded use of artificial intelligence in supercomputing applications.

"Father of the Internet" Vint Cerf delivered the keynote address, Computing and the Humanities" at the international supercomputing event SC21 in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo: KAUST

"Google evangelist" and "Father of the Internet" Vint Cerf delivered the conference keynote address, Computing and the Humanities, offering a fascinating overview of the myriad ways in which supercomputing is combining with machine learning to transform disciplines beyond science and technology in areas such as literary textual analysis, chat bot exchange, facial recognition, and advertising and news. As promising as innovations in the field may be, Cerf emphasized the need for critical thinking and ethics.

In preparation of SC22 in Dallas, Texas, KAUST Computational Scientist Bilel Hadri will chair the reproducibility initiative. In this role he will review all accepted conference papers for details of their software environments and computational experiments to ensure that any independent person could replicate their results.

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