Interview with Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Lippert
Prof. Lippert, you were elected chairman of the Board of the Gauss Centre for Supercomputing in April. How do you see the role of the Chairman of GCS?
Since its foundation in 2007, the Gauss Centre for Supercomputing (GCS) has become the most powerful national HPC infrastructure in Europe. My predecessors as chairmen of the GCS, Prof. Achim Bachem, Prof. Heinz-Gerd Hegering, and Prof. Michael Resch all have significant merits as far as the success of this association is concerned. They have given GCS maximal stability and a reputation that is outstanding worldwide. Furthermore, the centres of the GCS have been working together ever closer within the last eight years; I am very proud to follow the role model of my colleagues as the Chair by building on their virtues and these past achievements.
Thanks to the formidable engagement of the German ministry for education and research (BMBF) on the one hand and the ministries in Baden-Württemberg, Bayern, and North Rhine-Westphalia on the other hand, between 2010 and 2016 the GCS was enabled (and still is) to provide Germany’s HPC infrastructure of the highest national performance class, called Tier-1. Evidently, GCS has achieved one of its major objectives. In addition, GCS has almost completed its delivery of supercomputing capacity worth Euro 100 Mio. to the European association Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) on behalf of the BMBF, so far the most significant contribution to Europe’s Tier-0 HPC infrastructure. On top of it, GCS not only is commissioned to provide the most powerful HPC infrastructure in Germany and Europe, its mission also comprises to serve a broad range of research and industrial activities in a variety of disciplines.
At this stage, I see it as a most important responsibility of the chairman to ensure that the GCS success story will continue and even can become a greater success in the future. This goal, on the one hand, requires leading the GCS safely into its next phase, starting in 2016, by deepening the deep trust GCS enjoys from its ministries. On the other hand, GCS has always been, as truly European partner, crucial for the progress of PRACE; the chairman must contribute his best to ensure that GCS stays being the stabilizing element in PRACE.
You mentioned the long-term collaboration between the GCS partners, which is now in its ninth year. What is the key success story of GCS from your point of view?
What was considered a tremendous challenge eight years ago – bringing together the three national centres to form a single organization – has turned out to become a most conducive research infrastructure of supercomputing for Germany and Europe that substantially has enhanced Germany’s position and visibility in the field of computational science and engineering worldwide. It is quite interesting to observe the reason for such a successful long-term stability.
My view as to a GCS key success story more strongly reflects my computational scientist background rather than my computer science history – I am a practicing computational elementary particle physicist – and I think, the crucial step was a scientific one, namely the establishment of a rigorous GCS peer review process, joining the virtues of established procedures at the three centres. In fact, it is remarkable that GCS achieved to promote its peer-review procedure to become the template for the European PRACE peer review. On the organizational level, GCS has established a Joint Steering Executive Committee (Lenkungsausschuss) led by experts from science and engineering of highest reputation and supported by a team from the three GCS centres. This executive committee is responsible for the peer review process and the practical coordination between the centres. Our GCS evaluation practice promotes a continuously increasing level of quality of the proposals submitted, and, most importantly, it attracts those scientific and engineering groups to GCS facilities with highest scientific claims.
Which changes should we expect from you?
We have gained lot of experience in the last years on data intensive supercomputing, being increasingly requested in a variety of fields like for instance terrestrial systems, neuroscience, climatology and engineering. Given the growing importance of Scientific Big Data Analytics (SBDA) for science and engineering, I assume that SBDA in science and industry will become a major component of high-end HPC activities worldwide, and both fields, data intensive simulations and SBDA, will grow. I am convinced that the GCS has the ability to become the trailblazer for peer reviewed SBDA in Germany and Europe and I will strongly try encouraging the GCS to engage in this field.
What are future challenges?
The HPC landscape is known to transform very rapidly. Every 3 to 5 years a new generation of HPC technology appears. The past and future challenge for GCS is to take our users with us, together with their highly evolved application codes, as we move towards exascale compute performances and data storages becoming established around 2025. We have to substantially expand our training efforts and our support activities in order to help our communities keeping up with the exponentially growing demands on parallelism, scalability, hierarchical memory layers and interactivity.
Many people say that the US and Japan benefit substantially from having national HPC industries. Would such a European player enhance European science?
It was obvious in the early times of supercomputing that US scientists and engineers had some competitive advantage as early adopters of their homemade technologies. I think that since then the rest of the world, in all scientific and engineering fields, has been able to strongly improve its position due to excellence in application software, algorithms and development of tools. As example, materials sciences groups in Europe are probably in the lead compared to US due to their high expertise in molecular dynamics and ab-initio simulation codes. Of course, it is natural and important for the HPC centres to engage in co-design projects with German and European technology providers of HPC technology; a most welcome effect is that this engagement will foster the field not only in Europe but also as a whole, not least because high-end HPC technology producers and vendors more and more become globalized companies. On all accounts, GCS must be open to the best technology available worldwide, procured on the basis of accepted rules, to ensure its continued ability to offer world-leading supercomputing systems and software to its users.
Where do you want to be in two years from now when your term as a chairman of GCS will end?
I hope that GCS II will have been launched by the same winning team as in the first round of GCS, that we can manage to realize the vision of an interacting HPC pyramid with the Gauss Alliance, and that GCS will have succeeded to rejuvenate its leadership in the next round of PRACE.
Prof. Lippert, thank you for the interview. The interview was conducted by the inside team.