I participated on Thursday in a panel at the HPC Users Conference, run by the U.S. "Council on Competitiveness." I spoke on how the U.S. national laboratories can partner with companies in a mutually beneficial way. The panel reinforced for me some important points that I think need to be more broadly appreciated:
- High-performance computing (HPC) is increasingly central to competitiveness, not just in traditional areas like aerospace and automotive, but also in new areas like corporate data mining and consumer product design. (Amusing success story: Procter & Gamble used a supercomputer to study the airflow over its Pringles potato chips to help stop them from fluttering off the company's assembly lines.)
- National laboratories have played, and continue to play, a central role in developing the software and methods that make HPC systems usable. I'm always amazed, for example, by the variety of software that comes from Argonne: the quasi-uniquitous MPICH message passing library, PVFS parallel file system, Access Grid collaboration system, PETSc numerical libraries, Globus Grid software, and numerous others. The aggregate impact is enormous.
- Successful lab-industry partnerships can be about far more than access to supercomputers--they can involve codevelopment of advanced software systems. For example, Terry Talley spoke about how Axciom (they have your credit card data, if you live in the U.S.) had worked for four years with the PVFS team at Argonne.
The two industrial participants in the panel were interesting. Terry Talley talked about how Axciom is using Grid computing internally. The CTO from DreamWorks talked about the amount of computing involved in modern animated features: 10,000,000 CPU hours for Shrek1, 15,000,000 CPU hours for Shrek2, and so on. He also talked about how they are using DOE supercomputers in an exploration of interactive (instead of overnight) rendering. So even the most advanced users can imagine using computers in far more powerful ways.