For the tenth year, Rice University’s Oil and Gas High Performance Computing (HPC) Conference united professionals from Oil & Gas, IT, Academia and National Laboratories to create a forum for conversation and innovation regarding hard problems. Jan Odegard, Executive Director, Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology and Associate Vice President, Office of Information Technology, described a three-way partnership at the conference where Oil & Gas provides “energy”, IT provides solutions and National Labs and Academia drive technology and prepares the future workforce.
Attendees of the conference normally fall into three groups: oil & gas employees, vendors and researchers. Their primary purposes are learning, networking and “selling” depending on which group they represent. Yet, no matter which group they belong to, the number one reason participants cited for attendance is the healthy marriage that exists at the conference between academia and industry. Brett Newman, the Worldwide HPC Marketing Lead for IBM Power Systems explained, “Other conferences are concentrated on academia only or just computing, but this conference is a collaboration between research and actual practitioners.” Deepak Khosla, President of X-ISS, mirrored Mr. Newman’s remarks by adding “People come to this conference to learn and network.” Here, they have more time with their colleagues, with their customers and they value the ability to enhance those relationships. He has attended all ten years of the conference and talked about the value of the presentations which “used to be only O&G and scientists speaking, but has broaden over the years to include service providers,” which he likes. Leslie Friedrich, Business Development Executive for Autograph International Inc. (known mostly as The Easy Copy Company) talked about the importance of being at the conference because it is “more IT oriented, yet still O&G” and that her company likes it because “all of these people are our customers. In addition, we get to come to the university and network with students. You don’t get this anywhere else.”
Relationship selling seemed to be a topic that many people brought up based on the smaller size of the event. The smaller size is an advantage to everyone whether they have a table as a vendor or whether they are currently working in the oil & gas industry. Glen Wallin, Sales Manager for Nordstar Group (NSG) cited the conference as having “not only a very focused audience” but the smaller size as an advantage since “it is easier to talk to others and get business.” Leslie Friedrich, The Easy Copy Company, said about her services, “What our company provides, isn’t a product you go out and sell” therefore, the value of the size and networking with others in the industry is paramount. LeRone LaTouche of Cycle Computing said this was their third conference and they like the size because it is easier “to get exposure, to find customers, to showcase new products and broaden their market.” Prior years they attended and this was the first year that set up a booth as vendors. He went on to say, “Here we can talk to the O&G community and figure out what applications and requirements they need. We can really engage with the community.” Andrew Westergren, Manager of HPC Tools for ARM (formerly Allinea) said, “...at other conferences you might have to set up appointments to see your customers” here it is “much more intimate and it’s quieter.”
Besides the concentration of the industry and the size of the conference, participants cited seeing new technologies and advances at the conference. Reza Ghasemi, an engineer with Stone Ridge Technology, said, “It’s not only good to see new breakthroughs in technology on the application side in software, but to catch up with others.” Murray Swanger, Intel Sales Director added, “Often times vendors take over events and this is one where that won’t happen. It keeps things about the industry and partners do a good job bringing pertinent subject matter in.” Cynthia Underwood, Nice Software Global Accounts, said this was her fifth year attending, not only because a high concentration of her customers are here, but also due to “it’s always centered around new thinking, specifically deep learning and analytics.” Lou Marchant, Senior Account Manager for Cray, Inc., said, “Here we get to talk to smart guys to solve the big problems and the problems don’t get smaller every year, they get larger.”
The two biggest technologies and/or themes people were focused on this year: Cloud and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Debra Goldfarb, Chief Analyst and Senior Director of Market Intelligence for Intel’s Data Center Group, talked about these themes as she addressed the group in her presentation. She challenged the audience by asking them, “How much of the world’s data did they think sits in the cloud?” She asked for a show of hands for 50% and almost 65% of the attendees raised their hands. She asked for a show of hands for 10% and about 20 people raised their hands. The answer was “5%” with her prediction that “workloads will continue to shift to the Cloud, as it is a delivery method and an architecture.” Regarding AI, she said, “We are at the beginning of the gold rush with companies like Amazon and Goggle driving the scale and sucking in talent to their workforce.” Peter Ungaro, President and CEO of Cray, Inc., cited, “memory and storage hierarchy” as the two biggest changes in the industry. Keynote Speaker, John Eastwood, Geophysics Manager at ExxonMobil for Seismic Imaging/Processing/FWI Research and Applications and Acquisition Research talked about the challenge of “the trend of going to more and more data collection” with “more complicated geology.” And it all coming at a large cost. The cost he simplifies by saying, “Memory is important for our simulations, but a lot of work has to be done to utilize the memory of what you can use.”
For people like, Deepak Khosla, X-ISS, coming to the conference and hearing about “what are the problems O&G sees and are they being addressed” is very important. Chet Confort, Technical Analyst for Cambridge Computer says for O&G “the hard part is not generating the data, it’s utilizing the data. The real challenge to the industry now is how to use the Cloud efficiently. It’s not going to save you money initially, but it makes you innovative and more responsive to your customers.”
Besides talking about Cloud and AI technology, the other word/theme thrown around the most was innovation. Whether a vendor or an academic, many come to premiere a new thought or idea. Dr. Cathal O’Brion, a Computational Scientist with ICHEC (Irish Center for High-End Computing) came to the conference from Dublin to assess interest in a library project in Dublin and to receive feedback. E.G. Nadhan, Chief Strategist with RedHat talked about the need to be innovative not just with product offerings, but also with engagement with customers. “RedHat is a very engineering focused company and we take great pride in our product offerings, but if we continue to walk in and talk to customers solely about product that conversation will only go so far. Innovation is not just about technology, tools & products. You have to also be innovative about interaction with customers. Our company believes in the art of collaboration driving innovation.”
To be part of innovation and collaboration, please mark March 12 & 13, 2018 on your calendar for the Oil & Gas High Performance Computing Conference which will convene for its 11th year.