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Communications of the ACM


For These Companies, It All Started With the Decision to Adopt

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As the 25th anniversary of the annual SC conference series gets underway in Denver this week, attendees will find much in the broad program of the conference that is familiar and expected — including the tradition of adding something unexpected to the program each year.

The HPC Impact Showcase is one of the several elements at SC13, and one of the most important for organizations that are not yet using high performance computing, or are not yet sure it is worth the effort.

The Showcase is designed to introduce attendees to the many ways that HPC is shaping our world — every day — through case studies and testimonials from companies, large and small, that don't typically attend SC conferences. Their stories relate the ups and downs of adopting HPC to better compete and succeed at their core business. For each of the organizations in this year's Impact Showcase, HPC is now essential to how they succeed at what they do.

In each case that first step — the decision to adopt — was crucial. And it was often difficult to bring senior decision makers on board.

Because of the focus our community and the media often put on the extreme end of supercomputing, where machines can cost 100 million USD to procure and require a small army of professionals to maintain, many smaller organizations have a gut reaction that HPC is out of reach or just not relevant to them. It is this reaction that the Showcase is designed to help counteract in the tens of thousands of companies, private research institutions, and universities in which HPC could have a transformative impact.

The Showcase includes sixteen participants, all sharing their perspectives on why HPC is significant to them, and how they went about making HPC part of what they do. You can find the full list on the web, but here are a few that highlight the breadth of companies taking part:

  • Michael Waltrip Racing will showcase the application of HPC to professional motorsports, focusing on use of HPC in the body and cooling systems design of NASCAR vehicles
  • Proctor & Gamble will focus their work on efforts to understand the structure and function of human skin at the molecular level
  • The Dow Chemical Company is talking about how they got started in HPC, using advanced simulations to build more absorbent diapers, and how successes their led to adoption of HPC throughout their business

These talks won't just be pretty picture slides with final results — each of the organizations presenting has come to help others understand what it might take to adopt HPC in their core business, show them how others have done it successfully in the past, and what some of the payoffs have been. Many of the stories include significant help from university programs and government investments, where focused research and consulting efforts by the supercomputing community was the key ingredient in adoption of HPC by the organization.

This is an important point for policy makers to remember as they plan their technology investments in a time when stagnating national economies are causing supercomputing countries around the world to re-evaluate the impact of their investments. HPC has a direct impact on the ability of companies in their countries to compete and succeed in the global marketplace.

John West is the Director of the Department of Defense High Performance Computing Modernization Program (, and a member of the executive committee for SC13 


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