Scientific supercomputing in Europe takes step forward
Access to and use of supercomputing in Europe will become easier and more widespread thanks to three continent-wide initiatives announced at the end of July. Significantly, although most of the funding is from public sources – and much of the programme is therefore directed to academic researchers – a significant segment of the new initiatives is aimed at European industry.
The announcements come a month after the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC’13) in Leipzig, Germany, heard how a coordinated approach was successfully driving both the academic and industrial development of high-performance computing (HPC) in Europe. Conference sessions became showcases for the achievements and future plans for European HPC – as reported in this article: ‘Europe gets its HPC act together’.
The latest announcements were made by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) – a body set up to co-ordinate access for European researchers to six leading-edge HPC systems – and from DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe), which plans, builds and runs advanced high-speed networks for research and education.
Although PRACE’s main remit is to support academic researchers who use HPC, it has now launched a pilot programme to improve the adoption of HPC among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in part by providing the expertise necessary for SMEs to make use of high-performance computing. The SHAPE programme (SME HPC Adoption Programme in Europe) will foster technological transfer between academic – i.e. PRACE – and industry.
Initially, a pilot scheme will introduce HPC-based tools and techniques into a few selected SMEs. PRACE experts will work with the selected SMEs to provide them with the knowledge that will allow them to make an informed decision on what HPC solution to opt for. Open to all European SMEs with an interesting idea that can be implemented using HPC, the Call for Applications will close on 15 September 2013.
As PRACE widens the scope of those who can use HPC in Europe, DANTE has announced the completion of a major 2Tbps (terabits per second) network upgrade to GÉANT, the superfast pan-European data communications infrastructure that interconnects National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). This will improve access to computing resources across the continent: increasing capacity and providing faster service and greater resiliency.
More than 1,000 terabytes of data already passes through GÉANT's IP backbone each day. However, the creation and sharing of research data is increasing, putting research networks, high-performance computing and grids – collectively known as e-infrastructures – under strain. Many major projects involving global partners, such as CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the forthcoming Square Kilometre Array (the world's largest radio telescope), and many bioinformatics projects generate massive amounts of data that need to be distributed, analysed, stored and accessed.
‘The project to upgrade the GÉANT network involved renewing 50,000km of backbone infrastructure and the replacement of legacy equipment with leading-edge transmission and switching technologies, a significant undertaking and long term investment,’ said Mark Johnston, DANTE’s chief network operations officer.
The new technology will ensure greater flexibility so that new circuits can be ‘switched on’ within the hour. In addition, the option of ‘on-demand’ services accommodating short-burst transmission of large data sets can now be offered across the GÉANT backbone. Finally, the network’s ability to ‘self-heal’ guarantees continuous service.
According to Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission: ‘This project is essentially future proofing GÉANT until 2020. It means we can stay ahead of the ‘data deluge’ that is emerging from research projects. A super-fast network means we are closer to achieving a European Research Area.’
The third announcement was that PRACE had awarded computing time on its systems to 42 research proposals, out of 118 who had applied following PRACE’s 7th Regular Call for Proposals.
PRACE’s decisions are made by peer-review and the chairman of the Access Committee, Professor Claudio Zannoni, pointed out that ‘the scientific selection and prioritisation is performed before, and independently of the allocation of available resources. It is thus no surprise that even some excellent projects could not be supported, since the resources requested largely outnumbered those available. It is clear that the scientific community as a whole needs more computational resources, especially more of the world-class quality that PRACE can provide.’
Seven projects had previously received support through PRACE Preparatory Access, and again significantly in terms of the wider use of HPC in Europe outside of academe, three projects were awarded to researchers from industry. The successful project topics include high-resolution climate modelling; the development of new theories on solar energy harvesting and ultra-fast and ultra-high-density magnetic data storage; radiation-magnetohydrodynamic simulations; the effect of oncogenic mutations on the conformational free energy landscape of kinases; and deterministic numerical ground motion simulations for risk hazard in Santiago de Chile.