Primeur magazine: Can you please explain how the Supercomputer Seminar started?
Hans Meuer: We started as you know, because you have been one of the early attendees, in 1986 at the University of Mannheim. The seminar was organised under the umbrella of the Society for Further Education of the University.
Primeur magazine: Why did you actually want to start a Supercomputer Seminar?
Hans Meuer: This was, so to say, my hobby. My love with big computers, coming from Forschungszentrum Jülich. I brought this to Mannheim. But the university itself was not so interested. So together with some friends, Martin Wacker from DLR, and Lutz Richter from the University of Zurich we started this supercomputer seminar. That was our interest.
Primeur magazine: When I remember correctly, the seminar had three main tracks: software, hardware, and architecture.
Hans Meuer: From the very beginning we have also been interested in comparisons of different systems. For example, the IBM 3090 vector facility, and the Cray 1, and the Fujitsu VP machine. And we have been interested in applications, of course, since the very beginning. Let me give you an example: Werner Butscher from Prakla-Seismos gave an interesting talk already at the first conference about oil exploration, how they did it at Prakla-Seismos.
Primeur magazine: The seminar, the conference, was held for several years in Mannheim.
Hans Meuer: It was hosted at the University of Mannheim until 1996, so for eleven years. We started with exactly 81 attendees in 1986 and after eleven years we ended with 141, that is not too much, but on the other hand, the university has been very happy with us, since we have been the most successful seminar. Others have been happy with 30-40 attendees.
Primeur magazine: Of course, also the supercomputer community was much smaller at that time.
Hans Meuer: It was smaller, but the attendees came mostly from Germany, or from the neighbouring countries of Germany, Switzerland, and also, as you, from the Netherlands. But from the very beginning we have been interested to invite speakers from the leading supercomputing nations. Those were at that time Japan, and the US.
Primeur magazine: Which was, when I remember for Japan, quite a challenge, because of the language barrier that existed.
Hans Meuer: For our conference, the used languages were German and English, depending on the speaker alone. We expected that the attendees could also understand German, as many talks were given in German.
Primeur magazine: Why did you move to Heidelberg?
Hans Meuer: The reason was that after eleven years, the university had the feeling that we blocked their beautiful aula in the middle of the summer in June. Because the seminar was running under the umbrella of the society of the university, we looked with them where else we could go in Mannheim, and talked to the Congress Centre Rosengarten, and agreed to move there. But this has not been a very good decision. After the university venue we have been for four years at the Congress Centre. But for them we have been too small, and they tried to use us to fill the gaps, and moved us around.
I was not very happy with this decision and after 4 years - which happened to be also the time when I was facing my retirement as director of the computing centre - there was a general discussion what should happen to the seminar. The university said they did not see a chance that they would run the seminar without me. It was my "baby" so to say. They offered to me to run it on my own, as a spin-off of the university of Mannheim. Being free of university considerations, I proposed to move to Heidelberg. There was a very nice building, the Stadthalle.
However, the Stadthalle was not useful for exhibitions as there was only a small upper floor. There was also only one lecture hall, so we were able to run only one single track, like in Mannheim at the university. But we stayed five years in Heidelberg, because the number of attendees was growing, mainly due to the fact that Heidelberg was a lively city and especially people from Asia and the US liked Heidelberg.
Primeur magazine: I agree that Heidelberg is a nice city, but I think it was also the programme that attracted people.
Hans Meuer: But that was also true for Mannheim.
Primeur magazine: So it was indeed a small space for the exhibition, but why was it important to have an exhibition?
Hans Meuer: At the university there was no exhibition possible. At the second seminar, the manager of Convex Germany, Helmut Mühl-Kühner asked me to bring a Convex 1 to the venue. Most of the attendees believed that it was a coffee machine or something. They did not see it was a computer. This was the only thing we did as an exhibition at the university. But at the Rosengarten it was possible to start with a small exhibition. I liked to go ahead with the exhibition because I saw it was a good combination: if you want to have a successful conference, you also must have a successful exhibition.
Primeur magazine: After Heidelberg, you moved to Dresden.
Hans Meuer: After 5 years in Heidelberg from 2001 to 2005, we moved to Dresden. This really was a big step into our professional future. Why? Dresden has a very modern and nice Congress Centre at the Elbe river and it was a great experience for us to be in Dresden. There, we had also the possibility to have parallel sessions and to have a real professional exhibition. That was very good for us.
Primeur magazine: Because it was a Congress Centre which was designed for that. Not just an upper floor in a building.
Hans Meuer: Yes, and so we stayed three years in Dresden. Of course, the question arises why we moved already away from Dresden after 3 years?
The only reason why we moved away was that the demand to come as an exhibitor, was growing so fast that Dresden was not in the position to offer us enough space for the exhibition. That was the only reason why we left already in 2009 after three years and moved to Hamburg: in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 we have been in Hamburg.
Primeur magazine: And currently there is no other big European exhibition on supercomputing?
Hans Meuer: There is no other one. So at this point we can say we became professional in Dresden, with the parallel programme and the real exhibition, and with all our social and networking events at night. In Heidelberg, we had Neidenstein, that was very nice, but also in Dresden we had good social and networking events. But then we went, for no other reason than that they could not offer enough space for the exhibition, to Hamburg. We have been in Hamburg for four years. Again, the question: why did we leave Hamburg? This year we are in Leipzig. It has a beautiful Congress Centre and, for a couple of years, we will probably stay. The Congress Centre is terrific, but the drawback is that the Centre is a bit far from down town Leipzig. That was better in Hamburg of course. But you have to make compromises.
But remember we are only 7 years professional. In Mannheim, and until the middle of Heidelberg, I did the job alone with my secretary, Monika Sheedy, and student helpers, but then my two sons, Martin with a background in computer science, and Thomas with a background in business administration, also became part of the company. Since then, I am only responsible for the programme. With the exhibition, and everything else, there is a lot of work to do. We now have 17 employees on our payroll and several part time helpers. That was the reason we have become so successful.
Primeur magazine: So now you are in Leipzig.
Hans Meuer: And we already have agreed, to stay definitively next year, but possibly also in 2015. We do not know what we will do then. The point is that if you are doing it for three years, then the fourth year is much easier. The Congress Centre knows what we need. The first year is always the most difficult.
Please let me summarize our first year in Leipzig. After the 28th event from the very beginning in 1986 and after the 8th really professional event since 2006 in Dresden we have had the following result:
This year's International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) attracted 2,423 conference attendees from 53 countries as well as 153 companies and research organizations from around the world, which showcased their products and solutions. It's my believe that this is a very good result.
Primeur magazine: Why should people come here? You offer a big conference in Europe on HPC, with a big exhibition. But should not everybody go to the States once a year? There is a big conference there too.
Hans Meuer: I guess the supercomputing market and what is happening in supercomputing, is so fast that two major conferences per year, one in Summer, and one at the end of the year makes sense. On the other hand we have some advantages in Europe. I have the feeling, we do very well with the Asian people, from China, Japan and Korea. It is easier for them to come to us, and they like to come here.
Primeur magazine: But anyway there is room for two conferences.
Hans Meuer: Yes, there is enough room for two. Whether there is enough for a third, who knows? The one in Asia has stopped. Now we are one of the two "must go" HPC events in the world.
Primeur magazine: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. We wish you lots of success with the following ISC events in Leipzig and beyond.