Thoughts from the ISC Cloud '13 Conference

I served as a panelist at the ISC Cloud’13 Conference, held this year in Heidelberg, Germany on September 23rd and 24th. Attendees included representatives from large manufacturers (HP, Intel, etc.), CAE software vendors (ANSYS, Simulia, etc.), large organizations and HPC end users (Ford, CERN, various universities), and of course, cloud simulation providers like Rescale.
The conference program included a broad mix of topics related to HPC in the cloud – covering a wide range of industries from financial services to biotechnology to of course, engineering and manufacturing. In addition, a wide variety of interesting solutions and concepts were presented, including but not limited to:
a) a virtual real-time market for HPC capacity that would show available capacity and prices for anyone interested
b) cloud federation tools that enable the sharing and use of medical and health data in the Netherlands
c) a hybrid cloud setup that enables computation of mission-critical, financial insurance services in the cloud
However, the majority of the conference focused on engineering and scientific simulations, which have long shown the most consistent need for high-performance computing and are natural candidates for adoption of HPC in the cloud. I took away three main points of interest from the time I spent listening to other speakers and interacting with attendees at this conference.
1. There is a strong and growing wave of interest (and not just from vendors) in cloud-based engineering simulation. I met with numerous end users, especially from smaller and mid-market companies, who desperately need a more cost-effective way to perform engineering work, in terms of both computation and software licensing. Not surprisingly, the few large-enterprise representatives I spoke with expressed interest in the “burst” capability now offered by the cloud. Walking them through the business case for cloud simulation helped me understand their immediate and longer-term strategies for leveraging the cloud, and it bodes well for the future of this growing market.
2. Getting the technical details right will get you in the door with prospective customers, but all the “other stuff”, such as finding the right business model and ensuring data security, is tremendously important. Many of the hallway conversations I had were about security and understanding the financials. Part of the reason why performance wasn’t a hot topic is because HPC is a well-known commodity by now, and the remaining issues with cloud (interconnect, file transfer, etc.), are all well understood, even if not yet universally solved.
3. Engineering software vendors customarily recognize that cloud is the next frontier for innovation and growth, and are implementing strategic plans to capture market share. We heard from four of the top vendors, and all unveiled or reiterated plans for the next generation of simulation that included the concept of various “apps” within a simulation ecosystem. Cloud is top-of-mind for many of these vendors, mostly due to demand from various end user segments that see the benefits of running simulations in the cloud.
Overall, it was a terrific learning experience. The conference was very well organized and provided a great deal of insight about the state of the market, and enabled several conversations with other parties interested in running simulations in the cloud. The future looks promising, and I left the conference excited about what is yet to come.
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