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Rubrik: Campus Life

CSCS seeks to grow with new joint management
Strengthened leadership for national computing centre

Published: 08.03.2007 06:00
Modified: 07.03.2007 22:10
In response to the latest upheavals at the CSCS, a joint management team will be responsible for the supercomputing centre in Manno in future. The current director Marie-Christine Sawley will now head the CSCS together with Marco Baggiolini, ex-President of the USI. ETH Zurich President Konrad Osterwalder stressed to the media in Manno the importance of the CSCS as the national centre for supercomputing.

Samuel Schlaefli

Konrad Osterwalder described the strengthening of management by Marco Baggiolini, former President of the University of Italian-speaking Switzerland (USI), as a stroke of luck. He said on the one hand the actions taken represented continuity and on the other they strengthened the management structure of the CSCS (1) with a specific aim. Organisationally the CSCS reports to ETH Zurich.

Good marks for technical competence

The management level innovations are in response to an industrial dispute at the CSCS that escalated in the spring of 2006. (2) At that time eight employees levelled serious charges against management, including bullying at the workplace and the lack of a strategy when procuring new supercomputers – and in a letter leaked to the media they demanded the resignation of the Director and the Operations Manager. As a result the President of ETH Zurich at that time, Ernst Hafen, commissioned an administrative enquiry to investigate the allegations.

No details of the administrative enquiry were disclosed in Manno. However, Konrad Osterwalder said this much: the enquiry had revealed certain management weaknesses, but the labour dispute had also been caused by the unconciliatory attitude of certain employees. On Monday, first at a staff information meeting and then before the media, Konrad Osterwalder appealed to “all the forces of good will” to let the conflicts be a thing of the past and to allow a new beginning.

A peer review carried out independent of the administrative enquiry gave the CSCS management good marks from the technical viewpoint in the summer of 2006. According to this experts’ report, the CSCS had made considerable progress compared to the previous review in 2002. Therefore, according to Baggiolini, the task now was to continue resolutely along the chosen path while at the same time improving internal collaboration and contacts with customers.

Renowned scientist as co-president

As he himself says, Marco Baggiolini’s involvement with the CSCS is limited to about two years. Baggiolini is retired and looks back on a long scientific career. He is an internationally recognised immunologist and was among other things the Director of the Theodor Kocher Institute. From 1996 to 2006 he was President and Rector of the University of Italian-speaking Switzerland. He will be responsible primarily for personnel matters, customer contacts and external relations with politicians and the institutions of higher education. Marie-Christine Sawley will look after international relations, as well as the technical and scientific management of the Supercomputing Centre.

CSCS remains in Manno

On Monday 26 February 2007 Konrad Osterwalder also referred to the Swiss Federal Council’s Statement on the Promotion of Research, Education and Innovation 2008 – 2011 in which Manno is expressly mentioned as the national supercomputing centre. By saying this he countered a fear widely held in Ticino that the CSCS might be moved to Zurich. The Statement also firmly establishes that the machine currently leading the supercomputing field, of which there is only one in the whole of Switzerland, is to be located in Manno and that the CSCS will be operated from ETH Zurich as hitherto. Against this backdrop, according to Osterwalder, substantial investments are in the pipeline to implement the national strategy in the field of “High Performance Computing” (around 150 million Swiss francs for the period 2008 - 2011).

Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS)

The CSCS is the national centre for supercomputing and employs a staff of about 40, including 15 scientists. Supercomputing (High Performance Computing, HPC) is an area of computer-assisted scientific calculation requiring large calculating power to compute simulations or analyse complex data. The CSCS works in co-operation with ETH Zurich, other Swiss universities, the PSI (Paul Scherrer Institute), CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), MeteoSchweiz and other research institutions.

The new Co-Director of the CSCS, Marco Baggiolini (l), and Konrad Osterwalder, Rector and acting President of ETH Zurich, announced innovations at the CSCS in Manno on Monday 26 February 2007.

Five questions to Marco Baggiolini:

Mr. Baggiolini, what will you undertake first upon on entering office to bring the CSCS back on track?

First of all I will get to know my future colleagues, so I will meet each of them personally for a conversation. One reason for doing so is that the basis for collaboration is founded on trust, which is my aim of course. In my discussions with the staff, who raised serious accusations against the CSCS management a year ago, my main wish is to learn more about the motivation for their skirmish.

Could there even be redundancies?

I hope to be able to convince the people involved that pressure campaigns such as the one last spring harm the CSCS as an organisation. I am not thinking primarily of dismissals – that’s not my style. I want to see a constructive attitude on the part of all CSCS employees. It is entirely possible there will be tough arguments in order to improve the Centre and its performance in science and in providing services.

In your opinion, where did the problems in the past originate?

I cannot give any answer to that question. Analysing past problems is an extremely laborious and uncertain enterprise. Much of it may have had to do with the internal and external communications, and I think disputes were often caused by misunderstandings. I will pose the question in the forthcoming conversations with the staff, not to apportion blame but to identify situations that might also lead to complications in the future.

In the past the CSCS management was reproached by their own staff with the accusation that no clear strategy existed in the procurement of supercomputers. What is your opinion on that?

In view of the imminent period of growth and consolidation, my main wish is to be forward looking, and I will also make the future my theme in the forthcoming discussions. The CSCS is in an excellent starting position at present. The decisions at the highest level, in the Statement for 2008-2011, ought to bring stability. The report on the recent evaluation by a group of professionals with the very best credentials awarded the Centre good marks. The experts found the work of the last few years to be outstandingly good, and judged that the CSCS had made considerable progress in implementing the recommendations from previous evaluations. Therefore, in the absence of clear evidence, I cannot imagine why the CSCS should lack a “clear strategy in the procurement of computers”.

Where do you see the greatest potential for improvement at the CSCS?

In the technology field the CSCS is already one of the world’s best high performance computing centres, as the peer review also established. Collaboration in research is one area where further development could benefit the CSCS. In the strategy context the corresponding national working group will give directions and make suggestions. A good atmosphere, healthy self-appreciation and a clear mission are additional important preconditions for progress in research and technology. We will work on that basis.

(1 Information about the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre: (
(2 ETH Life reported the accusations at the CSCS: (

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