12 Jan 2023

Event round-up: How do we advance international collaboration for the future of compute?

This session convened international leaders to explore how to challenge barriers limiting international collaboration as advancements in high-performance compute infrastructure unlock further opportunities for research and innovation. Across two core themes of international collaboration and business innovation, both sessions explored how the sector can support collaboration across policymakers, industry, and academia, alongside addressing challenges such as skills, funding, and access

Speakers for the session included;

  • Ben Bennett, Director - HPC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (United Kingdom and Europe)

  • Prof Tan Tin Wee, Chief Executive, NSCC (Singapore)

  • Nicolas Tonello, CEO, Constelcom (United Kingdom)

  • Mark Wilkinson, National Director, STFC DiRAC HPC Facility (United Kingdom)

  • Sean McGuire, Lead for Higher Education and Research, NVIDIA (Europe)

  • Oliver Grant, Senior Digital Scientist, Department for Culture, Media and Sport - Future of Compute Review (United Kingdom)

  • Damien Lecarpentier, Director, Business Incubator, CSC - IT Center for Science (Finland)

  • Joel Martin, Chief Digital Research Officer at the National Research Council of Canada (Canada)

  • Yuichi Kojima, Head of  HPC business, NEC Deutschland GmbH (Germany)

  • David Snelling, Director of Advanced Compute, Fujitsu Center for Cognitive and Advanced Technologies

Session one: Strengthening international collaboration in the future of compute through trade and agreements

The development of high-performance computing (HPC) and other compute infrastructure represents a significant scientific advance with the potential to help countries around the world tackle some of their shared challenges in areas like climate change and drug discovery. To fully harness the global potential of the future of compute, we need to create a policy and regulatory ecosystem in which these technologies can work together, boosting and complementing each other.

International collaboration plays an important role in accelerating progress and ensuring large-scale computing will deliver benefits to all. However, global supply chain challenges, regulatory divergence, restrictions on access to government data, and a lack of commitments to support innovation and science on an international level hinder cross-border collaborative partnerships and innovation in this space.

Session one’s discussions can be summarised via;

  • Cross-industry-academic strategy;
    • Innovation within computing must be aligned with the interests, capabilities, and challenges facing all the varying parts of the sector, including academics, suppliers, and international policymakers. This means taking a step back and asking fundamental questions regarding businesses’ operational challenges, what hardware exists and how exactly academics can develop these tools. The European Commission’s European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs) and Horizon 2020 programmes provide effective strategic support for sectors, including businesses’ research and application for technical products and services within HPC.
    • HPC’s carbon impact on local communities’ require efforts in reducing emissions. This also means the sector’s strategy building must reach actors across civil society, local government industry and academia. Intrinsically to tackling climate change, the sector must build long-term dialogues between all the varying stakeholders internationally.
  • Building sustainability;
    • This also includes collaboration in building operational capabilities and research on the reduction of energy consumption. For example – researchers’ abilities to clock down Graphics Processing Units (GPU) within certain workflows and projects, cooperating with software developers and policymakers to ensure sustainable best practice aligns with researchers’ reduction of embedded carbon within the system.
    • Cross-stakeholder strategy development must ensure HPC’s usage remains in line with international efforts for sustainability while avoiding blanket regulation and optimisation strategies that fail to account for the complexities and divergences of HPC’s varied application within different research areas.
    • When it comes to design processes, it’s also important industry communicates across involved sectors including energy suppliers and data centres, so sustainability standards account for all contributors and factors within HPC’s energy ecosystem. This should also incorporate current cross-sector regulatory strategies including international Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) and International Energy Agency (IEA) policymaking.
  • Skills, talent, and funding;
    • Building talent and skills within the sector should also mean UK businesses being able to direct the long-term workstreams of universities, contrary to collaboration built on a singular project-by-project footing. 
    • Specifically, regarding quantum computing, research operations must be aligned with the needs and challenges of sectors in which HPC will be applied, this should include ensuring industry’s abilities in hiring technical specialists and engineers internationally.
  • Multilateral fora, bilateral trade agreements, and international regulatory policymaking in cooperation with industry and academia;
    • International data transfers cannot hinder the important cross-academia-industry innovation of HPC.
    • International collaboration must also focus on effective problem-solving; tackling key challenges that exist across cross-borders and building forums that proactively address problems productively. 
    • The challenge of rising economic protectionism within key trading countries has placed roadblocks in key trading processes. Overcoming these challenges will require extensive collaboration and strategic alignment across stakeholders within academia, national/international policymakers, and digital tech businesses.  
    • UK digital tech businesses are invited to contact the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) HPC stakeholders, ensuring the Government’s Research and Development work alongside the DCMS’s Future of compute review accounts for the real-world experiences and challenges of businesses within the digital tech sector.

Session two: The role of the tech sector in developing access to compute

This panel explored how the tech sector is promoting international collaboration around high-performance compute. Through speakers’ examples, discussions highlighted where international collaboration has directly supported the development of high-performance computing, as well as navigating how to best promote collaboration across nations, and how to support start-up and SME ecosystems develop their access to compute.

Session two’s discussions can summarised via;

  • International SME access to compute;
    • Governments must work with international fora to enable SMEs to access and trial HPC within key sites including the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre. This would allow SMEs to directly communicate with researchers and technicians within centres, experiencing up-close the potential impact of HPC within their business’s operations.
    • SMEs must have access to technical support within HPC centres, including domain knowledge and building workflows. Collaboration and provision of businesses’ own projects and processes lead to reduced costs/compute time and quicker-to-market products.
  • International examples of compute collaboration supporting SMEs;
    • Singapore; Through effective international collaborative building, supporting SME’s entry to HPC through access to computational scientists and facilities within centres has been a priority for Singapore’s government. This has included using software developers to de-complexify the computers’ software, allowing technical users within businesses to use HPCs for modelling, simulation, data analytics and AI.  
    • Canada; Building direct cross-government-industry organisational capacity, Canada has created support mechanisms for SMEs to access HPC centres. For example, the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Programme connects SMEs to HPC technicians, including training courses and funding, while also developing cross-industry-academic networks. The Programme also gives specific support to start-ups via the Creative Destruction Lab which exists as a multi-sector-run organisation through academia, policymakers, and industry. Canada’s university sector has also worked with the country’s varying HPC centres to package its services under a singular workstream via Compute Canada.  
    • UK; Three-year long programme in collaboration with tech businesses to develop workstreams and community building within the ARM ecosystem. The project brought together coders and academics to develop ARM software capabilities, supporting the university sector with resources and expertise from the digital technology industry.  
  • Government support towards industry;
    • The discussion showcased how the international HPC ecosystem best succeeds when Government facilitate the right funding and skills environment. Panellists shared examples of when government and industry have, and have not worked well together, including the examples listed above. Special interest was given to the role of Government in facilitating greater coordination for public infrastructure to improve access, this will be especially pertinent as nations look towards creating exascale machines.

A link to this event's page can be found here.

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Head of Technology and Innovation, techUK

Jago Corry

Jago Corry

Programme and Policy Assistant, Markets and International Trade, techUK