Journey to a HPC verse by Atul Singh
Hi, my name is Atul and I am 25 years old. I hail from India, and I am currently enrolled as a MSc student in Computational Science and Engineering at the University of Rostock, Germany. These are (and will be) a set of posts on my thoughts, experiences and work, as a participant, of the PRACE Summer of HPC 2018 programme, where I’ll be working on a HPC (High Performance Computing) project for 2 months at one of the supercomputing centers in Europe. So come with me as I embark on this journey and take you through one of the most amazing experience of my life.
Not so long ago, I was building cars and all terrain vehicles as college projects couple of years back.
That was done during my Bachelor degree in Automobile Engineering. I’ve now developed, as a participant of this programme, to build on a small infrastructure for HPC applications (think software). This is again inline with my Masters’ as it explores the simulation aspect of engineering and sciences.
How did I got here? I suppose, it has more to do with the positive cosmic forces that drive our universe. I may have caught and synched with an appropriate frequency.
The PRACE Summer of HPC programme is one such beautiful instance of an “event” (Get it?) which came my way and each day has been absolutely phenomenal so far. I’ve had the privilege and blessing to visit the beautiful city of Edinburgh along with 19 other participants coming from various European universities. Oh and did I mention, I am also going to spend the better part of this summer in Bologna, Italy. Not everyday does a student get such an amazing opportunity to work on a challenging project, and be able to see Europe as a detour from work. Surely the makers and organizers of this programme deserve applauds for thinking this through, or at least a big shoutout from one very happy participant (or perhaps 20, each year)!
I remember the conversation that I had with myself when I applied for this. The guy with the thorns on his head saying “Why bother! You won’t stand a chance against all the PhD’s going for this, that are from across European institutions, which is as good as saying , students from all over the world.” His demeanor was understandable as for more than half of the projects open for applications, I understood only very few of them and was eligible for only a couple of them. However, the guy with the ring on his head said, “Look, dude, if you won’t apply you will definitely not get it, but if you “just” tried, you may probably get it. That is statistically more likely, if not highly unlikely”(Yeah, my subconscious talks in probabilities sometimes)! The choice was obvious. I had to give it a shot!
I was busy running some errands for my brother’s wedding (yeah, that was in April of 2018), when I got accepted. The day just became brighter, more lively (as is the case in most of Indian weddings) and of course even more fulfilling because I was already in a place, both emotionally and physically where I could actually celebrate with my whole family. My sister seemed more happier than me, “Wow, you’ll be seeing Italy, now eh!” she says. To which I reply, “I’ll be living there, sista!”
I couldn’t have asked for more, every aspect of it has been amazing so far. The design is just spot on, accompanied with the apt resources and infrastructure to make it such a brilliant success between both participating individuals/company. The training week in Edinburgh gave me (and us) a taste of power of a supercomputer and what it could do when used properly (and also, how my laptop is not that powerful, as I once thought as a kid while buying it).
The exercises during that week introduced and educated us on how we as a participants should be leveraging these powerful resources to the best of our abilities for the projects that will be assigned to us.
Post classes, there was of course, Edinburgh to explore. Just look at this animation google made for me, it will basically give you a “feel” for it. Spoiler alert, that’s Edinburgh in the backdrop when the seagull takes the epic nosedive!
I then, after the completion of the training week, flew to Bologna, where Cineca, a supercomputing center and my placement site, is located. I must say, there is something new to learn, every single day. As much as it sounds cliché, getting to do the real thing, beats all classroom lectures. Even my classroom projects look cute when I compare them with what I learnt in the 1st week on one partition of a fully fledged supercomputer. There is simply no comparison.
I’ve been invited to work on a CFD project that is currently, and has been for quite a while now, a hot topic of research among the research community. (Think CFD as simulating and learning about the behavior of fluids interacting on or with some object, which can be air, water or any other fluid. There are of course other complexities involved). This has importance especially because large part of it depends on computation that should produce results as quickly as possible. Hence making the supercomputer extremely useful in such an endeavour. The applications are many, for e.g. The airplane takeoff leaves a vortex so strong behind it,that the other plane behind it must takeoff after this vortex diminishes. Understanding this vortex for example, could help to better organize the take off times of flights at airports, perhaps increasing the airport output in terms of revenue.
Simply put, my project would be to create programs that help visualize similar such computations, while it is being computed on the supercomputer! So think, saving resources on a machine that saves time. There is a also a word for it, “In-Situ Visualization”. Sounds awesome, right! Well, that’s because, it is.
Not to mention that I get to do it in Cineca, which is currently the world’s 18th most powerful supercomputer (Check here the top 20) in the world.
I simply feel blessed to be ableto work on it with such amazing individuals helping me in my learning curve. These people running such centers are obviously the best in their fields (which is most of the time, Mathematics with honors or magna cum laude, I’ve observed). This simply means that the water cooler moments also become interesting, engaging and of course fun (nerd jokes are not only gregariously appreciated, but also almost always responded with another one).
Well I know by now, you must be totally intrigued about this, but cliffhangers are always awesome as they, well, leave us hanging on a cliff!
So that’s all for my introduction for now and for this post, stay tuned as I’ll keep publishing the goodies in the time ahead as this project develops and this beautiful summer blossoms. For this is, and is going to be a “Summer of Highly Piquant Circumstance” of mine!