Monday, March 02, 2009

Interview: SC09 Conference Chair Wilf Pinfold

SC09 in November will be the largest conference ever in Portland. I sat down with Wilf Pinfold, Conference Chair, to get a first look at what we can expect to see at the show.

You've held a number of committee assignments for SC over the years. How did they prepare you for the role of Chair this year?
I have been involved with the conference since its first year and have held positions on the technical program, exhibits, and communications committees. Each position has provided a new level of insight into the operation of the conference however, the most important thing that I have gained over the years is getting to know and trust the members of this community. It is only through the high level of commitment and the high skill level of the volunteers that this conference is a success.
Can you tell us more about your background and day job?
I am Director, Extreme Scale Programs at Intel Corporation. In this role I am responsible for developing long-range technology research programs in areas relating to extreme parallelism, resilience, and energy-efficiency.
As Conference Chair for SC09, what are the primary goals for the conference?
First we intend to build on and strengthen the traditional foundations of the conference; the technical program, exhibits and the community programs. For the technical program we plan to add a track to give more time to the exceptionally high quality papers we receive each year.  For the conference exhibits, we've implemented a process change for strategically placing booths to improve the distribution and integration of large, small, research and industry exhibits.   And finally, to build on community programs, we have integrated education, broader engagement and student programs to give educators AND students of all national, ethnic, and minority groups more options for participation in the conference and the community.

In addition to strengthening these foundations we are soliciting content in three thrust areas bio-computing, sustainability, and the 3D Internet. These thrusts will help illustrate the ways in which high performance, networking, storage and analytics bring value to our lives on a daily basis.
It's been 10 years since the SC conference came to Portland. What kind of changes can conference attendees expect to see?
Since the last time we were in Portland, the Oregon Convention Center has doubled in size providing over a quarter million more square feet of exhibit space, 50 meeting rooms, and a new, 35,000-square-foot ballroom.

TriMet, the Portland area’s regional transit authority, has extended the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light rail system. There are currently 44-miles of light rail network. One of the most recent extensions was the Red Line which connects Portland International Airport to downtown - a 38-minute ride on luggage-friendly, low-floor trains.

There are also a number of new hotels including the 331-room Luxury Hotel “the Nines”,  and an upscale downtown boutique property called Hotel Modera.
SC09 has three main thrusts. First, why three? And what kind of activities can we expect to see around these three thrusts?
Our intention is to have a keynote to start Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the conference highlighting each thrust. We are encouraging technical program content in each area including papers, posters, workshops, and tutorials. We are planning to highlight content on the exhibit floor and we are planning contests and challenges in these areas. We are also planning to extend sustainability to the way we run the conference.
The SC08 & SC09 committees recently held their "handoff" meeting. What were the final statistics for SC08? Were there any surprises?
SC08 set new attendance and exhibitor records, with total registration exceeding 11,000 and 337 exhibitors filling all the exhibit halls in the convention center. This represents a 20% growth over 2007 attendance which, while not surprising given the growth rates in previous years, was very gratifying in the current economic environment.
What are the challenges of doing the conference in Portland? What are the opportunities?
Portland is an ideal city for SC09. The conference center, sustainable and open source culture, and high technology employers all fit well with our plans. There are excellent downtown hotels, great public transportation, fine restaurants and many worthwhile day trips. The challenge will be moving the large number of attendees to and from the convention center and to the events.
I've heard that this year will be the biggest exhibit floor ever for the conference. Are exhibits sold out for SC09?
We had an excellent booth selection event at SC08 that resulted in the majority of booth space being sold. We do still have a few good booth locations but they are selling out - so interested parties should contact us as soon as possible.
The SC conference continues to grow, even when other technology conferences are shrinking or going away. What do you think is the secret to this success?
SC is the one event in the year that the is attended by representatives from throughout the entire HPC ecosystem. The agenda is well balanced between technical program, exhibits and community programs. Attendees are able to listen to the latest technical material, view the latest technology products, and network with their colleagues.  If companies can only send their employees to one event in the year,  then that event is SC.
The SC conference held it's 20th anniversary celebration at SC08 in Austin. What is the outlook for the next 20 years?
Each year builds on the achievements of previous years so I believe the best of SC is yet to come.


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