What is “High Performance Computing” – and why do we need it?

If you’re a researcher, a techie, or if you simply follow technology and research trends then odds are you’re at least familiar with the terms “High Performance Computing,” “HPC,” or “super-computing”.  What used to be technology jargon is becoming commonplace. HPC is revolutionizing research and innovation in all fields from health to climate change to finding the “god particle”. It is ramping up the speed and efficiency of scientific discovery at an ever increasing pace. And that means good things for everyone.

I find the best way to summarize the rather gigantic and generalized topic of HPC is to stick to a fairly simple analogy:

If the ORION network is considered the 21st century equivalent of roads and railways, HPC would be the major cities that generate and use the products flowing through the ORION network transportation arteries.

In June of this year I arrived at ORION to serve as the organization’s first Advanced Computing Strategist. In this new and exciting role, it’s my job to help coordinate HPC programs, collaborate with the HPC community, and build funding support initiatives for this fundamental research tool. High performance computing has led to countless breakthroughs, international collaborations, and scientific discoveries including neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and the human genome project.

Already supporting the backbone of HPC in Ontario,  the three academic HPC consortia in our province –SHARCNET, HPCVL and SciNet – connect to their research communities through the ORION network. Between ORION and its members HPC provides the power and connectivity to inspire infinite possibilities and help Ontario’s researchers, educators, and innovators make their next BIG idea a reality, the next grand challenge possible to conquer.

With BIG ideas in mind, on November 28, 2012 ORION hosted an HPC focussed workshop called, “Life Sciences in the Cloud.” This workshop was a fantastic opportunity to discuss the needs and requirements of Life Sciences and Medical Researchers for computing in a cloud environment. The results of that workshop will allow for the development of appropriate applications, interfaces, networking and support services for a life sciences computing cloud and will be available on ORION’s website very soon.

I am excited to be working with ORION, our HPC colleagues, the province, and the rest of ORION’s diverse stakeholders to further Ontario’s position as an HPC leader. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to working with you! If you’d like to read and learn more about HPC in Ontario I encourage you to visit the websites of Ontario’s three HPC consortiums: SHARCNET, HPVCL, and SciNet.