ECMWF continues its expansion with a new office and datacentre

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Credit: ECMWF

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) has opened new offices in Bonn, Germany and a new data centre in Bologna, Italy to support the expansion of its compute capacity. 

In January 2020 ECMWF announced Atos had been contracted to supply a new HPC system that will increase ECMWF’s computing power by a factor of 5.

The new system was designed to enable ECMWF researchers to reliably predict the occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events significantly ahead of time, which is essential to understand and respond to the growing severity of climate and weather problems facing the world today.

AT the time of the announcement Dr Florence Rabier, director general at ECMWF comments: ‘Weather forecasting is computationally intensive and demands the best in high performance computing power. This is one of the main reasons we chose Atos. We trust in its ability to supply and integrate the best technologies available, but also in its proven expertise to deliver effective solutions to the weather forecasting community across Europe.’  

‘Thanks to this investment, we will now be able to run higher-resolution forecasts in under an hour, meaning better information will be shared with our Member States even faster to enable much-improved weather forecasts as they combine this enhanced information with their own data and predictions. As governments and society continue to grapple with the impacts of increasingly severe weather, we are also proud to be relying on a supercomputer designed to maximise energy efficiency.’

The 2020 contract, worth more than £67.8 million will provide a system based on the BullSequana XH2000 supercomputer. This new system will help to accelerate the ECMWF's work on medium and long-range weather forecasting and prediction.

Sophie Proust, Atos Group CTO said: ‘We’re really delighted to have been selected by ECMWF for this major contract. This is testament not only to our solid expertise and operational excellence needed to install, manage and run such a large system, but also to the best-of-breed technology which we are supplying, with our BullSequana XH2000 and our partners AMD, Mellanox and DDN. This new solution will optimize ECMWF's current workflow to enable it to deliver vastly improved numerical weather predictions. Most importantly though, this is a long-term collaboration, one in which we will work closely with ECMWF to explore new technologies in order to be prepared for next-generation applications.’

These new offices and datacentre space mark an exciting new phase for ECMWF. The organisation is strengthening ties with its Member States through new locations in Europe as well as its existing UK headquarters, and the first step towards upgrading its already world-class supercomputing capability for the advancement of its forecasts.

Following an international tender amongst its Member States, ECMWF’s third site opened in Bonn, Monday 13 September, a city already known as home to several international and intergovernmental organisations. The focus of ECMWF’s work in Bonn is that conducted in partnership with the European Union (EU), including the Copernicus Earth observation programme and the planned Destination Earth initiative.

The location in Bonn also enables further collaboration with scientific institutions across Germany and the region, and closer connection with ECMWF Member States. In particular, ECMWF will collaborate with the Center for Earth System Observations and Computational analysis (CESOC), which integrates research at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne as well as the Forschungszentrum Jülich. 

ECMWF’s new data centre in Bologna, Italy, formally opened on 14 September 2021, housing the Centre’s new Atos BullSequana supercomputer system, scheduled to begin running operationally mid-2022. 

The new system will increase sustained performance by a factor of about five compared to ECMWF’s current high-performance computing facility and provides the flexibility to accommodate the latest technologies in supercomputing. It will also facilitate the continuation of investigative work into the field of machine learning in numerical weather prediction, as well as the use of advanced high-performance computing, big data and AI methodologies to create a digital twin of the Earth with a breakthrough in realism.

The data centre is on the site of the Tecnopolo di Bologna campus that is redeveloping the unused buildings and grounds of a former tobacco factory.

Dr Rabier opens the facility alongside President of Council Dr Daniel Gellens and representatives from Italian local, regional and national governments, including Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Manlio Di Stefano, Minister of Education Patrizio Bianchi, and President of the Emilia-Romagna Region Stefano Bonaccini.

Speaking about the new locations and their benefits, Dr Rabier said: ‘It is an important moment in the life of ECMWF as we formally become a multi-site organisation, with our head offices in the UK, our new data centre in Bologna, Italy, and our new offices in Bonn, Germany.’

‘As an intergovernmental organisation, ECMWF’s dedication and loyalty are to its Member States. Over the years, however, ECMWF has also developed a close and extremely constructive working partnership with the European Union. When you consider that most of ECMWF’s Member States are also members of the EU, this partnership makes considerable sense. It allows EU and ECMWF Member States to be efficient by avoiding duplication of efforts and spending in areas of work where synergies are paramount.’

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