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CIUK Event Report: Lack of Coding is still a Hindrance to Research Progress

Last week saw OCF attend the last HPC event on the 2017 calendar, Computing Insight UK. A cold and frosty start was braved by the delegates at the annual event organised by STFC, held for the second year in a row at Manchester Central. This year the event theme was “Joining Up the UK e-Infrastructure” and focused on e-infrastructure and cyber security as well as emerging technologies.

The event was opened by Jacky Pallas, director of e-Research at King’s College London, and provided the context for the e-infrastructure systems and resources available in the UK. She highlighted some of the challenges and barriers to further development of these resources. Research conducted by the National e-Infrastructure consortium highlighted many things, notably that the community is underrepresented by women and only 61% of the community are on open-ended permanent contracts. Jacky also highlighted that suitable skills and experience in the field is a challenge and encouraged more sharing placements and internships. Work-life balance was also highlighted as a career barrier for men and women with mentoring being stated as a way of helping to overcome this.

The National e-Infrastructure is growing and continues to receive investment, but it is the people involved that are the key. Many people aren’t exposed to HPC until they are at a postgraduate level in University and a lack of coding skills is reported as being a hindrance to their research progress. However, on a more positive note, many respondents see programming as important and enjoy it. What I did find surprising is that only 1 out of 500 respondents used CUDA as their main programming language despite the increase in GPU- based systems.

Running in parallel to the morning sessions was a cyber security workshop run by STFC. We find that this is an increasingly important area for our customers and the session was very well attended.

Tuesday afternoon included a meeting of the Spectrum Scale user group which is celebrating its 7th birthday! Over the last 7 years, the group has grown from around 10-12 UK academics to over 700 global members from over 8 different industries. The meeting kicked off with an overview of the new features in 5.0 from Dan Kidger (IBM). Ulf Troppens (IBM) then followed up with an outline of the just published “IBM Spectrum Scale Blueprint for Genomics Medicine Workloads”. This is about nine months’ work with a cross-group team to develop some best practices and performance tuning suggestions to aid in the deployment of Spectrum Scale for this type of workload. This was then followed by two user talks; the first from Robert Horton from the Institute for Cancer Research on their research data storage platform and the second from John Brooks from Red Bull Technology, who gave us a high-level overview of the Spectrum Scale deployments used to support their operation. You can read the full report and see the presentations over on the user group website.

During the evening we enjoyed a social with customers and partners in rather unusual but suitably festive teepees! Thank you to Lenovo, DDN and Mellanox for supporting the event.

Day two of the conference saw a number of talks including Christopher Woods speaking on the ever-increasing Research Software Engineer (RSE) programme and Chris Parsons (IBM) presenting on Open Source and Machine Learning.

As always, vendors had the opportunity to speak in parallel to the main sessions. Keith Vickers, business development at OCF, spoke on IBM’s PowerAI Vision and how this product is helping Machine Learning to become more accessible. The key message from his talk is you don’t need to be a data scientist to use it!

The event provided OCF with the ideal opportunity to meet with customers, prospects and partners and is one of the highlights of our year. What did you think of this year’s event? We’d love to hear your thoughts.



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