Getting to know Anke Kamrath

Director of CISL

September 21, 2017 | As part of a series of interviews with new leaders at NCAR/UCAR, Staff News recently chatted with Anke Kamrath. Anke was named the director of CISL earlier this summer after serving as interim director since September 2016. 

Staff News: You came to NCAR in 2009 after 22 years at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.  How did you end up in the field of supercomputing? 

Anke Kamrath Nordic skiing
In her free time, CISL Director Anke Kamrath enjoys being outside hiking and Nordic skiing. (Image courtesy Anke Kamrath.)

Anke: As an undergrad, I was the first computer consultant ever hired at the University of California San Diego, where I was going to school. And then in grad school at Berkeley, I was always fixing the computers for the engineering professors. I had a degree in mechanical engineering, but I became the computer person.

My first job out of college was as a rocket scientist at The Aerospace Corporation. For my first year in that job I specialized in structural analysis and fracture mechanics of satellites and launch vehicles. I was invited to a launch; I saw the rocket blow up on the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was pretty wild — solid propellant burning everywhere, mushroom cloud over the launch pad.  During that time I also worked on the recovery of the Challenger Space Shuttle, working to identify possible failure modes. In my second year, I began using supercomputers at Los Alamos to do scientific visualizations. That's when I decided I wanted to get more involved in computing and less into traditional mechanical engineering. Computing was more creative and offered more diverse opportunities for making an impact.

When a supercomputing job came open in San Diego, I applied for it. Hardly anyone else had used a supercomputer, and I had. The San Diego Supercomputer Center started in 1985 and this was 1987. It was really the beginning of supercomputing for most academics.

Staff News: NCAR's computing resources have come a long way since we installed a Control Data 3600, our first supercomputer, in 1963. What do you see in the future?

Anke: I think we're going to see the most innovation in the memory and storage hierarchy in the coming years. Processors aren't getting much faster, but we're getting many more of them.

We'll be deploying one of the "new things" in storage this fall: a fast scratch file system that uses solid state drives, like the kind that drives in your laptop. In the old days, you had spinning disks for storage, and if you wanted to grab something off a spinning disk, you had to wait for the disk to “read” to the right spot. Solid state drives have much less latency which is beneficial to many of our applications.

For example, our team in CISL is seeing a 7x improvement with these types of drives for the workflows we use for CMIP [Coupled Model Intercomparison Projection]. Server side sub-setting for the RDA [Research Data Archive] on SSD-to-SSD as compared with disk-to-disk is seeing a 20x improvement.

My vision for our next supercomputer, four years from now, is for a data supercomputer that would have large swaths of much faster memory on the nodes, combined with fast scratch space. This could enable significant speed-ups for many of our applications.

Staff News: What about the future of CISL?

Anke: One thing is I would really like to build out is our capability in data science — bring people with machine-learning and deep-learning experience into the organization. This is a field that's going gangbusters out in the commercial world, where they're using data for decision making, analytics, pattern recognition and beyond. The opportunity to apply these kinds of capabilities to climate and weather science would be exciting.

Staff News: What do you do for fun when you're not working on computers?

I love to hike, and I can actually walk to work; I live in the neighborhood just down below the Mesa Lab. If they ever had a contest for best commute, those of us who hike the trail up to the Mesa Lab would win.  I also enjoy cross-country skiing – and get up to the mountains as much as possible in the winter.