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The Supercomputing Conference has served as the world's preeminent event since 1988 for high-performance computing (HPC) , networking, storage and analysis – and WWT has been a consistent attendee for more than 30 years.

This year's conference, SC21, was a streamlined version held in November and was hosted in St. Louis, home of the Advanced Technology Center (ATC ). After a one-year hiatus in 2020, this year's event had perhaps one-fifth the usual attendance and a greater emphasis on smaller exhibitors with larger organizations canceling or opting instead for a remote digital presence. And, because SC21 took place in our own backyard, the ATC and WWT's Tech Campus each served as a sort of offsite extension of the conference where we hosted demonstrations and briefings of the latest supercomputing solutions, many from WWT's principal technology partner Intel, which received numerous awards and mentions at SC21.

But most notable was the relevance of this year's conference theme, "Science and Beyond," and its emphasis on use cases for the future. At WWT, we would add: "Technology and Beyond" to underscore the importance of a robust infrastructure to support those use cases and their relevance to society.

In short, for veteran SC attendees, this conference was different than any other – a transformational experience rich with meaningful interactions, the latest technologies and innovations, and a focus on new ways of thinking about the future of high-performance computing and artificial intelligence (AI).

A different format provides the opportunity for deeper conversations

Despite the significantly fewer attendees and booths, the result was a much richer, more effective conference experience. In contrast to the frenetic pace of previous events, 2021's manageable crowd size and fewer exhibition distractions led to more opportunities for in-depth engagements with industry influencers and strategic OEM partners. Entry lines common in the past were either shorter or nonexistent, and booths were well-staffed with subject-matter experts who could invest quality time with each visitor.

WWT's global engineering teams in attendance reported considerable customer interest in discussing the possibilities for the future: tomorrow's technologies, solutions, and opportunities. And, our subject matter experts were able to engage with a range of ecosystem players, including C-level leaders and decision makers – people who normally would be tightly scheduled in meetings or presentations. The result was a higher level of thought leadership discussion and connection.

As it turned out, the lightest SC attendance in 20 years yielded the best-quality engagements, proving that sometimes "less is more."

ATC tours amplify WWT's impact at SC21

Hosting the conference in St. Louis was WWT's opportunity to showcase the ATC, our multi-campus ecosystem of research and development, and an incubator for IT innovation. With four separate data centers on campus, the ATC is our testing ground for emerging HPC and AI technologies, applications, and workflows. The ATC helps make "impossible configurations possible."

Over the course of the conference, WWT escorted some 16 groups to the ATC for intimate tours, showcasing our HPC solutions in ways a mere demo or presentation could not have rivaled. Besides using the ATC as an offsite meeting location, we also hosted several breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings that extended the "booth like" experience.

Touring the ATC, our awestruck visitors were treated to technological marvels that exceeded all their expectations: "Our memorable visit to the ATC in St. Louis underscores WWT's unique capabilities as a fully-fledged systems integrator," said Philip Crocker, VP of Business Development and Channel at SoftIron. "It's a powerful testament to their world-class technical strength."

That sentiment was echoed by Sumit Puri, CEO and co-founder of Liqid: "Our friends at WWT graciously invited us to their headquarters for a strategy meeting that culminated in an amazing tour of their ATC, where customers and partners can demo industry-leading IT technologies," he said. "We're excited to have Liqid Matrix CDI solutions deployed at the ATC."

Added David Burke, Senior VP North America Sales, 2CRSI, "The ATC builds a bridge between the data center solutions provider and the data center customer. In working directly with the ATC, we have a clear understanding of a WWT customer's technology needs and can quickly confirm its value within the ATC, eliminating what once took many months of onsite POCs."

Showcasing fresh solutions highlighting additional key partners

During SC21, WWT focused on technology partners whose innovations are removing the barriers to achieving HPC and AI: for example, MemVerge and its big memory software solution. Previously it was virtually impossible to scale large memory systems until Intel® Optane™ persistent memory(PMem) launched, offering the first big memory hardware technology to combine large capacity with persistence, enabling memory to retain data even after reboot. To complement the persistent memory hardware of PMem, the big memory software stack from MemVerge allows applications to take full advantage of PMem's capabilities – enabling large memory systems to deliver high performance with low latency and greater reliability at scale, something previously unattainable. In doing so, HPC systems can solve harder problems, meet critical time windows, and achieve higher quality results with greater confidence.

An important announcement at SC21 concerned a Memorandum of Understanding between the consortiums for Compute Express Link (CXL) – which serves as an open industry standard for providing a high-speed CPU-to-device and CPU-to-memory interconnect – and Gen-Z, a previous go-to-market approach standard. CXL is now recognized as the "new kid on the block" and Gen-Z will roll its complementary features into the CXL standard, bridging the two protocols.

During SC21, WWT investigated and discussed a working model of CXL in action – albeit one that consisted of an open server held together with duct tape and packing material. It offered testimony to how bleeding-edge many such emerging technologies are. This is the Science part of "Science and Beyond," the pioneering work that will eventually find its way to tomorrow's enterprise and edge solutions.

Intel achievements take center stage as the foundation for HPC and AI

WWT's principal technology partner Intel is a driving force in all our customer solutions, and its products are integrated throughout the ATC. In every list of "The World's Top 500 Supercomputers," more than 80 percent are consistently based on Intel® architecture.

So, it's little wonder that Intel received multiple honors in the 2021 Readers' and Editors' Choice Awards sponsored by HPCwire, the industry's leading publication for news and trends in high-performance computing, AI, and related topics. Intel received:

  • Reader's Choice, "Top 5 Products or Technologies to Watch," for the 3rd Generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor
  • Readers' and Editors' Choice, "Top 5 Products or Technologies to Watch," the Intel® Xe-HPC GPU (code-named Ponte Vecchio)
  • Readers' and Editors' Choice, "Top 5 Vendors to Watch"
  • Readers' Choice, "Best Programming Tool or Technology," Intel's version of the oneAPI cross-architecture programming model for CPUs and accelerator architectures
  • Honorable mentions for enabling products and technologies in three additional awards:
    • "Best Use of HPC in Life Sciences" for Intel® processors.
    • "Best Use of HPC in Physical Sciences," Intel Xeon Scalable processors and Intel Optane persistent memory.
    • "Best Use of HPC in Financial Services," Intel® Optane™ SSDs, Intel® QLC 3D NAND technology, and Intel processors

Although Intel did not have a physical booth at SC21, it did offer a robust remote booth. And, Intel's thought leadership was front and center with a keynote presentation by Jeff McVeigh, Intel Vice President and General Manager for the Super Compute Group, who shared his company's vision for "Igniting the Next Era of Supercomputing for All," with Intel technology as the foundation for the future of HPC and AI.

A smaller and different SC21 conference inspires greater possibilities

The theme for Supercomputing 2021 was "Science and Beyond" – celebrating the application of HPC to solve some of the world's toughest challenges, from vaccine development to autonomous vehicle design, unlocking discoveries to open new frontiers. For WWT, that theme mapped well to our theme of "Technology and Beyond": if science is the use case, WWT working with its ecosystem partners and applying Intel technology to deliver the infrastructure that enables it to become real. You can't have one without the other.

A key to making supercomputing solutions work is to open your mind to new possibilities, because HPC technology vectors are changing rapidly, the way you did things yesterday might be outdated tomorrow because of advancements today.

A more relaxed, intimate SC21 may well have set the stage for the look and feel of future events. WWT and Intel will continue to drive those future-focused possibilities – and we invite you to experience them in the ATC.