A portal opens to German HPC centres

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Germany is opening a window on its national HPC provision, in the hope that academic researchers and industrial users will beat a path to its door, as Tom Wilkie discovered at ISC High Performance in Frankfurt last week.

Germany has embarked on a project to collate information on all the country’s academic supercomputing centres and the expertise they have – not just in computing but in sector-specific ‘domain knowledge’ in science and engineering.

The aim is to create a central reference point open to both academic researchers and industrial users who are taking their first steps in trying to solve problems using high-performance computing. Potential users will be able to tap in to the portal and discover which HPC centre could provide the most appropriate assistance in getting their problem – whether academic or industrial -- set up for solution on a high-performance computer.

Coordinating academic HPC centres

The project, coordinated by the Gauss-Allianz – an association of the country’s academic supercomputing centres – is very much a ‘bottom up’ approach, in contrast to the French strategy for tackling the issue of Easing access to HPC for the SME, as described in another report from ISC High Performance on the Scientific Computing World website.

The initiative has come about independently of the worries expressed by Jürgen Kohler in his keynote address to the conference about Why do smaller companies shun HPC? However, it is explicitly intended that one of the aims is to attract more small and medium enterprises into using HPC, and thus it addresses at least in part some of Kohler’s concerns.

Industry access to HPC

Larger German companies, such as Mercedes-Benz where Kohler is senior manager, NVH CAE & vehicle concepts, can gain access to HPC through a different organisation: the Gauss Centre for Supercomputing (GCS). This combines Germany’s three national supercomputing centres: the High Performance Computing Centre at Stuttgart (HLRS); the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC); and the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre at Garching near Munich (LRZ).

The HLRS in particular has been verry active in forging relationships with industrial users, for example by setting up the Automotive Simulation Centre in Stuttgart which counts Daimler, Porsche, Honda, and Opel amongst its membership. The ASC-S lists not just access to HPC resources on its website but also ‘Know-how; Workshops; Project Management; and Networking’.

The Gauss Alliance was formed a couple of years later than the Gauss Centre to bring together the smaller supercomputing centres, based mainly in universities, together with the Gauss Centre, the German Climate Computing Centre (DKRZ), and the German Weather Service.

Transparency in Germany

In a separate workshop at the end of ISC High Performance, Professor Thomas Ludwig, the director of the Climate Computing Centre, explained that the Alliance was coordinating and assessing HPC resources in academia in Germany to provide an overview of the national scene.

The aim was to make it more transparent for potential customers of HPC as to the specialisms of the different centres and which ones might be relevant to their particular problems. Some of the customers may be other researchers taking their first steps towards using HPC to solve their scientific questions but the initiative is also directed at industry, he said. The ultimate objective is to create a portal on the Gauss Alliance website that will allow potential users easy access to partners in the Gauss Alliance network.

Professor Wolfgang Nagel, from the Technical University in Dresden, explained that the centres would not be able to offer commercial HPC use in return for a fee. The point was knowledge transfer to industry, by marrying up industry customers with the appropriate academic centres. The idea was for the centres to get an industrial problem recast in a way that would run on HPC and, perhaps, to do some preliminary trials. But for ‘production’ runs, industry would have to buy time from commercial providers of HPC services or go to Amazon Web Services or another Cloud provider of HPC.

Parallels with Xsede in the USA

In some respects, the Gauss Allianz initiative resembles the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (Xsede) that operates in the USA. This too brings together a collection of integrated advanced digital resources and services for scientists to use. However the Xsede project is backed by significantly more funding: it is a five-year, $121-million project supported by the US National Science Foundation. In addition, Xsede appears to be oriented almost exclusively to academic science rather than industrial involvement. While the Gauss Allianz initiative is certainly intended to improve the uptake of HPC among the countries academic researchers in science and engineering, it is also intended to encourage participation from SMEs.

Previous reports in this series have asked Why do smaller companies shun HPC? and explored ways of Easing access to HPC for the SME. Robert Roe offers a respite from policy-related issues in his report from ISC High Performance on how Computer processors evolve to fit new data intensive niches.