High Performance Computing Summit 2015


Jonathan and Joe, just before the presentation.

On Monday (2nd of February) myself, Joseph Mearman (@mearwolf) and Dr. Jonathan Roberts (@jcrbrts) traveled down to London for the 2015 High Performance Computing Summit. We were there to promote the concept of visualisation in the big data pipeline, and had been asked to run a short workshop on the subject. The event was a superb opportunity to interact with industry and other researchers, so we didn’t take much convincing.

Traveling down on Monday was pretty relaxed, I always find Virgin trains a real pleasure to travel on. Not only was the route direct, without the need to change anywhere, but Virgin trains are well equipped. Its amazing how useful a plug socket on a train is! Especially if (like Joe) you travel with a whole arsenal of electronic devices.

On arrival we booked into the Tavistock hotel, which was nice enough, and good value for money. The rooms themselves had a certain “student halls” kinda charm, but they were clean, quiet, and in the centre of London… hard to complain really! The internet speed was pretty dire, but fortunately the hotel was over the road from University College London, so myself and Joe were able to leach internet… thank you eduroam!

After quickly grabbing some lunch the three of us went back to the hotel to continue working on our presentation. While the broad strokes were all in place, there was a little polishing to be done. Well, thats not entirely true; myself and Jonathan had finished our broad strokes, Joe hadn’t actually begun written his slides… So, it was time to dig in, brew some coffee and do some work. This continued uninterrupted until it was time for tea (at a delightful Italian restaurant Jonathan knew about), but as soon as we had eaten it was back to the laptops. By we, I again mean Joe, but, in all fairness to him, he got the work done and finished by 2am (a whole 4 hours before we had to wake up).

In the morning we were treated to breakfast at the hotel; pretty standard, eggs, bacon, toast, kippers… brilliant! It also came as a nice surprise as we had no idea we had breakfast included. This provided the fuel for our expedition to the conference venue, which was 2 miles (40 mins) away. While I would usually argue that 2 miles is a short, pleasant stroll, carrying a suitcase, and rucksack (filled with the aforementioned technology and two ethics books) 2 miles is another matter… Although the walk did give us an opportunity to see Horse Guards and Covent garden… We were also surprised to see a giant blue cock guarding Trafalgar Square.


The conference venue, with some of the exhibitors.

Arriving at the conference we quickly signed in, and stashed our suitcases in the cloakroom. Fortunately a second breakfast was waiting for us, as the walk down had burnt off far too many precious, precious calories. As we were eating there was an opportunity to visit (and chat with) some of the exhibitors… A deal only sweetened by the all the freebies being handed out! While Joe ran interference I was pocketing handfuls of pens, notepads and tins of mini mints; I also managed to swipe a pot of jelly beans! However, the pièce de résistance was the Lenovo stand, who were giving away wireless mice (I pinched 2) rubix cubes (got 3 of those) and canvas bags full of chocolate pennies (I acquired 2… which where promptly stolen by my wife). My friends at Fujitsu also had a lovely collection of notepads with post-it note holders, and some handsome pens. All in all, a good haul of swag!


Joe loved the dinner…

If anyone reading this is attending a similar event, and wants to know how to grab as much swag as possible without feeling guilty, these are my top tips:

  1. Pretend your important – People love giving swag to important people, you may be important enough to buy their services.
  2. Pretend you have children – If you want to take multiple freebies, asking the person who runs the desk “do you mind if I take a couple for my kids?” works really well. All sales and marketing people have to be nice, and no one wants to make a child cry. Because, after all, you don’t want the kids to fight over what you bring home.
  3. Operate in teams – While your friend is trying to run scams (1) and (2), distracting the sales rep, you can be working your way through their freebies. However, be warned that this requires either an experienced wingman, or a stooge willing to take one for the team!

The event opened with several interesting keynotes which provided an interesting perspective on the breadth of challenges that currently exist in the field of big data and high performance computation. My favourite was the one provided by Joe Duran of Fujitsu, not only because it discussed HPC Wales, but also because it introduced many themes that we intended to discuss in our workshop.


Jonathan during his portion of the presentation.

I’ll be honest, I usually hate keynotes at business  events, this is because everyone who knows me in a professional context is aware that I hate the overuse of “trendy terminology”, the general practice of buzzword bingo. However I’m happy to say that this wasn’t the case at HPC2015, everyone was really speaking in a direct and detailed manner, rather than trying to baffle and excite with nonsensical vocabulary. I also hate the incorrect (and excessive) use of the phrase “Big Data”, so I found it really refreshing to hear it used in the correct context, discussed by people who really knew what they were talking about.

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A cheeky glass of rosé.

After the keynotes came lunch… which was lovely… I could provide a detailed description but I think my photo of Joe sums it up.

Then, it was time for the presentation. Which went really well… I’m not sure what else to say about it really. The crowd was engaged and the talk was really popular (so popular that the room was well over capacity and the staff at the venue had to bring in extra chairs).  We were also delighted that people were so interested that they hung around to talk with us after question time. Business cards were exchanged and we hope this engagement will lead to some positive collaborations in the future.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to set up a camera for the entire talk. But I did film Joe delivering his section on wearable devices and data collection (which can be found at the bottom of this page).

A final set of keynotes concluded up the event, these were great! I especially liked the talk from the Bentley representative who described their work with the Daresbury HPC centre. They explained how they were using virtual reality to test various vehicle layouts before production, cutting costs and improving the design process. One of the other talks brought up a controversial topic, sparking of quite a heated discussion about privacy, but all very productive. Then it was all over, with everything concluded it was time to catch the train three and a half hour direct train back to Bangor….. But not before a quick (complementary) glass of wine!

Our slides from the event can be downloaded here