Who Are We, And Why Are We Here?
The Semiconductor IT field has always been a bit of a misfit.
It’s not “traditional IT”. If you look at the resume of anyone who’s been in Engineering Support, you’ll see a specialized set of skills. You won’t see IT staples like Active Directory, Exchange Management, or SAN storage management. Most “core IT” departments view the Engineering IT folks as “different” in some way. We’re typically closer to the Engineering community and are accountable to them as much if not more than the IT department. Most of us are a part of IT, but in many ways we are set apart.
It’s not “really” HPC in the strictest sense of the term. Most of the tools we run are third party and we have very little control over how they do what they do. If you attend the SuperComputing Conference, you’ll see some familiar suppliers there, but you’ll see a whole bunch of smaller, niche players who optimize parts of the software stack we can’t touch. You’ll also see a lot of talks from folks in academic settings who are tweaking code to gain better parallelism or to explore new scheduling algorithms. Or you’ll see papers on how utilizing GPUs is providing breakthrough performance on some specialized scientific matrix calculations that are helping unravel the Human Genome or some such.
Neither of these describe our world. Our world consists of working with a small (and shrinking, it seems) number of software suppliers such as Cadence, Mentor Graphics and Synopsys and others. Their software is the foundational element of why we do what we do and how we do what we do. The fundamental assumptions which drive EDA/CAD software permeate every decision we make when it comes to scaling and optimizing our IT environments. We react to changes in their assumptions, like when a certain simulator moved to having a single compiled binary which all the other simulations referenced.
EDA software depends on certain assumptions: Linux as the OS, NFSv3 for network storage, a distributed resource manager, and FLEXlm-based licensing. Most of those decisions were made long ago (I detail my account of this in this series of blog posts).
We don’t fit neatly into the “IT Crowd” or the SuperComputing crowd, though we have several touch points. I know that in the past that Semiconductor admins used to attend the LISA Conference, sponsored by USENIX. However, not many from our industry seem to attend it anymore.
And yet, those of us in this space have similar and unique challenges. But outside of the CELUG organization, we did not have a community that really catered to our needs across a broad spectrum of Disciplines.
Bringing People Together
And so we are establishing this Association to provide a home for those who haven’t really had a home of like-minded Professionals. We are the home to those who specialize in Grid Computing, Storage Management, License Management, Data Security, and Engineering Cloud. There are assuredly other Disciplines we will adopt over time as the need presents itself, but these are the bedrocks upon which we will build.
The goal is to elevate the industry by building a Community connecting Practitioners and Suppliers.
We will accomplish this goal through several means:
- Providing opportunities for Members to share non-proprietary best practices with each other. Most of us are heads-down in our day-to-day jobs and don’t have to network outside of our own little sphere. The Association allows Members to network in ways that are otherwise difficult. Over the years, I have seen members of the CELUG community reach out when they are stuck on something, and oftentimes they receive better support from each other than from the suppliers themselves. We need the same community for other important Disciplines as well.
- Publishing opportunities. Other industries have ways for talented people in their profession to publish papers or articles, but Semiconductor IT generally does not. We have talented people out there solving real problems. More often than not, their work receives some internal recognition but then it’s right on to the next issue of the day. It’s hard to build a name for yourself in this industry. The Association website along with presentation opportunities at DAC offer our Members the ability to publicize methods for solving huge industry issues. It also gives Members a means of voicing intractable problems where we need vendor support, cutting through the “you’re the only one asking for this” that many hear.
- The Annual Benchmarking Survey. All of us want to know how we stack up against each other, but finding true benchmarks of what each other are doing is time consuming and difficult. The Association will contract with a neutral third party to collect industry data on what technologies companies are using and what technologies they are considering for the future. The anonymized data will be made available to Corporate Members, giving them incredible insight into where they stand compared to the rest of the industry.
- Establishing common standards and guidelines. From time to time, the Association will create standards setting bodies or create opinion papers which represent the opinion of the Association. Standards committees will be appointed and reports given to the entire Association for approval.
- Serving as a unified voice. The Association will provide a convenient way for us, as an industry, to communicate to suppliers. We will be advocates, we will be change agents and we will hold suppliers accountable. You will have a much better understanding if you truly are “the only one asking for this”.
- Advocating change. Semiconductor computing uses fundamentally dated technology. The technology world is advancing and embracing new paradigms. Containers, dev-ops, python(!), micro services, object storage, REST interfaces, Cloud technologies. As an industry we are not well-placed to make these transitions, but we must find a way to embrace these technologies or face obsolescence ourselves.
Providing a voice for HPC Professionals doesn’t do much good if no one is there to listen. That’s why we’re excited to welcome suppliers into our Community as well. This Association exists for the advancement and betterment of our industry, and suppliers are a vital component of making that happen. We want to have a dialogue with you on what we, as an industry, view as the biggest challenges facing us and how you can help.
There are some boundary conditions. The goal is to give suppliers a chance to interact with us in a safe environment where they have a reasonable expectation that their materials will not be available to their competitors. There will be some areas of the Discourse server where suppliers can’t access.
Our ultimate aim is to help clarify the needs of the industry as a whole. I often say that if you get 3 Engineers in a room you’ll have at least 4 opinions on how to go forward. The same holds true for HPC Professionals. It’s hard to divine what an organization “actually” needs. But interacting with Members will give you a broad take on the industry in a cost and time efficient manner.
Why should Suppliers want to be a part of the Association?
- Access to a communication channel to some of your biggest HPC customers. This is a unique Community which gives you a means to quickly gauge what’s on your customer’s minds. What’s working well? What’s in need of improvement. By participating in the Discourse Server or the Slack channels, you’ll have greater insight than you’ve ever had across your customer base.
- Opportunities to present to a wide audience. Through teleconferences, you can present information to several companies at once. It gives you a chance to get the word out and generate sales leads.
- Annual Benchmarking Survey. For Supplier Corporate Members, you’ll gain access to anonymized survey data from across the industry. This invaluable report gives you information on what your customers are using, but more importantly where they are going.
- Logo placement on the website. Show your support of the community visibly by having your logo visible on the Association website.
Technology: Bringing It All Together
The great thing about technology is that it gives you lots of ways to connect. The Association is pleased to use the following means of communicating:
This website is a primary means of communication. On it, we’ll have blog posts from the Director as well as Members. It’s a great platform to showcase your opinion or to review new technology or to simply outline a new way of approaching problems. Content will be reviewed and approved before it’s published, so you’ll know it’s high quality.
Members will have access to Member’s Only material such as presentations from past meetings from either Members or Suppliers. Suppliers will have a more limited view of the materials — we want to maintain an open community, but no one wants to give away key information to their competitors.
We offer two means of authenticating to the site: you can create brand new, site-specific credentials or you can link your LinkedIn account so you have one less username/password combination to remember. If you choose to create a new set of credentials we are using HTTPS for the entire site via Let’s Encrypt.
The Discourse Server
We’re using Discourse as a combined message board and mailing list. When the CELUG community started in 2003, it’s main form of communication was the email list. It was convenient because information showed up in something people have up all day anyway and replying was a breeze. However, that also meant that over time, valuable insight and information was lost to the archives. The mailman list that’s been in use is not particularly searchable. Nor does it have a concept of the “usefulness” of a particular post to help make sure it’s easier to spot.
That’s where Discourse comes in. Discourse gives us a web-based discussion board that has an email interface. You can subscribe to topics of interest and have things delivered to your email box on-demand or in digest form. If you want to contribute, you can either hit “reply” or go to the website. It’s up to you how you want to consume content or contribute. It also has social aspects, so you can “like” posts, or you can flag posts or posters who you think are being abusive or not adding value. The Community is in control of the quality of the content without having to specifically engage moderators (though they can). I’m really excited about the possibilities Discourse offers us as a Community and I hope you like it.
Similarly to the website, you can either create new Discourse-specifc credentials or use your LinkedIn account credentials.
The Slack Channel
For those who want more real-time interaction (and whose firewalls allow it!), we also offer a Slack channel. This is an invitation-only offering. Please remember that this is a professional forum and not to share any proprietary information in the channel!
Discipline-Specific Conference Calls
We can’t all come to DAC every year, and who wants to wait a whole year to get together anyway? Discipline-specific calls will happen monthly or quarterly depending upon demand. These calls with give practitioners a chance to present to their peers or to listen to a supplier talk about their latest technologies aimed at our industry. Calls are published on the Upcoming Events section of the site. Only Members will be able to see upcoming calls.