EU unveils €1bn supercomputing scheme

Written by Sam Trendall on 13 January 2018 in News

European Commission and member states to invest in programme to buy and maintain four of the ultra-powerful machines

The Hazel Hen machine, created by Cray and owned by Stuttgart University, is one of Europe's most powerful supercomputers  Credit: Christoph Schmidt/DPA/PA Images

The European Union and its member states are to invest €1bn in a small fleet of supercomputers for use by public- and private-sector entities across the EU.

The European Commission is to invest €486m in the newly created EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, a programme dedicated to providing Europe with “a world-class high-performance computing (HPC) infrastructure”. This funding is expected to be matched by contributions from individual member states and other “associated countries”.

In addition to acquiring two “world-class” and two “mid-range” supercomputers, the programme will also work on research and development initiatives focused on both HPC hardware and the software applications designed to run in conjunction with it.

The two more powerful machines will fall in the category of “pre-exascale” computing. This term is applied to machines capable of processing 100,000,000,000,000,000 – one hundred thousand trillion, or 1017 – calculations per second. 

The mid-range supercomputers, which will be in the class of machines that are able to process 1016 calculations per second, will begin operation in 2020, and will be made available for use “by a wide range of public and private users”.

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The creation of an exascale computer that can handle a quintillion calculations per second – otherwise expressed as a billion billion, or 1018 – is a long-held goal of the technology industry. The National Supercomputing Centre in China claims it is on course to have an exascale machine up and running by 2020 at the latest, and potentially as early as this year. The EC believes that its funding will help support “the development of exascale-performance systems based on EU technology by 2022-2023”.

Alongside the acquisition and maintenance of the four supercomputers, the programme will run a research programme dedicated to increasing skills and awareness around high-performance computing, as well as investing in programmes to build an exascale machine in Europe and the creation of new HPC-specialised software applications.

Mariya Gabriel, commissioner for digital economy and society, said: "Supercomputers are already at the core of major advancements and innovations in many areas directly affecting the daily lives of European citizens. They can help us to develop personalised medicine, save energy and fight against climate change more efficiently. A better European supercomputing infrastructure holds great potential for job creation and is a key factor for the digitisation of industry and increasing the competitiveness of the European economy."

Supercomputers are huge, exceptionally powerful mainframe machines, capable of running tens of thousands of times more quickly than an average PC. The world’s most powerful supercomputer, which can process 93,000 trillion calculations per second, is called Sunway TaihuLight and is owned by the Chinese National Supercomputing Centre in Wuxi.

The most powerful supercomputer in Europe is based at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre. The Piz Daint machine was built by US-based HPC specialist Cray. Machines based in Italy, Spain, and Germany also feature in the top 20, the latter of which – Cray's Hazel Hen machine at Stuttgart University – is partially pictured above.

The most powerful supercomputer in the UK – which is another Cray machine – is owned by the Met Office. 



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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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