What is supercomputing?
Supercomputing, or High Performance Computing, is using the largest computers available to tackle the biggest problems facing science, society, or industry. Whether generating computer models of uprecedented fidelity in the aerospace, biological or climate sciences, or analyizing vast amounts of data from astronomy, buisness data in industry, or textual or musical data in the humanities, supercomputing is a rapidly-growing set of hardware and skills applicable to building Canada's skills and capabilities in science, technology, and the economy.
Compute Canada computers can do in an hour what would take a single PC years to complete, if it were even possible to get the problem to `fit' on a single computer. This does more than shorten the time to get an answer; it makes new types of analysis and understanding possible.
Supercomputing and the Digital Economy
Supercomputing is one of the essential pillars of the digital economy; it is responsible more than any other level of computing for driving innovation in fields like aerospace engineering, biomedicine, climate science, physics, and astronomy. It is also essential for building digital skills; the students and researchers who begin their careers in supercomputing have skills then immediately translatable to not only other supercomputing-powered research fields, but to the sort of technologies that run facebook, youtube, Google, and other new digital media sites relying on huge databases and massive server farms. Supercomputers and the networks that create them are a vital piece of digital economy infrastructure and essential for building a Canadian ICT presence.
Supercomputing and competitiveness
The US knows that supercomputing is vital for economic competitiveness. The US Council on Competitiveness, founded in 1986, is a non-partisan board that includes CEOs and academics whose primary goal is to “...America’s long-term competitiveness challenges.” One of its primary initiatives is to encourage adoption of supercomputing to cost-effectively turbo-charge US firrms' R&D efforts. Most remarkable, perhaps, is its list of success stories as they include not only `high tech' industries like medical research, drug discovery, aerospace engineering, auto industry virtual crash testing; but also companies producing golf clubs (Ping), tires (Goodyear), plastics and composites (Alcoa), home appliances (Whirlpool), and even seemingly mundane products like shampoo.
The power of computing is that provides a `laboratory' that can be used by virtually every knowledge worker, whether academic or industrial – and further, they can share the same laboratory, exchanging knowledge and techniques, and providing industry a fertile training and recruiting ground for the next generation of innovators. This is just one way that the digital economy can spur the industrial economy. Partly because of this, the US has invested enormous amounts of money in the past decades for supercomputing capability-building; Canada is not even close, even per-capita or per-GDP.
Supercomputing in Canada
Canada has supercomputing `Centres of Excellence' in seven regional CFI-funded Compute Canada consortia, which are also supported by and have presences in every province of Canada. These locations combine cutting-edge computing hardware with world- leading highly-qualified personnel, and they already work with academic researchers in all disciplines, from aerospace engineering to astrophysics, and from waterway conservation to zoology. The consortia continue to work to build connections with industry, and this conference is one of the ways that practitioners from industry and academia can meet to exchange ideas and methods.