OLCF, other supercomputing centers collaborate to develop HPC training workshop

When Fernanda Foertter, User Assistance and Outreach Specialist at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a US Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, went in search of a workshop for those who train high-performance computing (HPC) users, she couldn’t find one. So Foertter teamed up with colleagues to develop their own workshop.

Now in its second year, the workshop will be featured at the SC15 supercomputing conference later this month in Austin, Texas. The team’s brainchild—“Best Practices in HPC Training”—is expected to draw a large crowd, said Foertter, who recalled the workshop’s humble beginnings. The idea developed out of Foertter’s conversations with former OLCF colleague Rebecca Hartman-Baker of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, who then was working at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. Soon others from supercomputing centers all over the world joined the conversation.

“In 2013, I wanted to meet other trainers. I Googled them but was not successful in finding them,” Foertter said. “So I talked to my colleagues at other centers and found that my colleagues had a similar interest. They all wanted to get involved.

“We saw a need,” she said, “so we put this together.”

That conversation continued into 2014. “So last year, we put in for a workshop at SC14 to leverage each other’s expertise,” Foertter said. “We were scheduled for Friday, the last day of the conference, and attendance was very strong. This year, they scheduled us for Monday, a sign this workshop was well received, and over 50 participants are expected to attend. It’s very exciting.”

The original planning team—14 individuals representing universities and computing centers—has since doubled and has held monthly calls leading up to SC15. The team has planned three tracks, or breakout sessions, to be presented during the half-day workshop. Those tracks are tools, competencies, and training in general. Foertter said the agenda builds in a certain degree of flexibility to cater to the interests of the participants coming from centers that serve diverse user populations.

The workshop also offers interaction between universities and computing centers. Foertter explained that it is beneficial for the universities that are teaching future HPC professionals to know the needs of the supercomputing centers. “They are the ones training the people who will be working in HPC,” Foertter said. “So this is a helpful dialogue.

“Ultimately, our goal is to develop ways to deliver training more effectively and more efficiently,” she said.

A component of that goal is the notion of building a community of trainers, Foertter said: “We are all doing HPC in the same basic way. So how can we do this training in such a way so we aren’t reinventing the wheel? Perhaps a consolidation of HPC training material is a consideration, and once that exists, we can improve upon the training material. We’ll be exploring those possibilities in Austin at SC15.”

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is supported by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit