EU hails new Airbus-size alliance for supercomputers

The Marenostum supercomputer at the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre. [IBM Research/ Flickr]

Seven European countries announced on Thursday (23 March) a joint initiative to acquire and deploy world-class high-performance computers, a project the European Commission says is comparable to the size of Airbus or the Galileo satellite navigation project.

The plan to establish an integrated world-class high-performance computing infrastructure was launched in Rome on Thursday (23 March) by ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

The EuroHPC declaration was officially signed in the Italian capital, two days before EU leaders meet to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. More countries are welcome to join the project “at any time”, the declaration says.

The project aims to deploy so-called exascale computers that are capable of at least 10 to the 18th power calculations (or a billion billion calculations) per second, the Commission said in a statement.

“High-performance computing is moving towards its next frontier – more than 100 times faster than the fastest machines currently available in Europe,” said Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, hailing a “great step forward”.

However, not all EU countries have the capacity to develop such infrastructure on their own, Ansip added, saying “Europe needs integrated world-class capability in supercomputing to be ahead in the global race”.

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High-performance computing (HPC) involves thousands of processors working in parallel to analyse billions of pieces of data in real time.

Industrial applications of HPC are numerous. In the health sector, it allows simulating the effects of new drugs, providing faster diagnosis, better treatments and personalised health care.

In aerospace, HPC was used to simulate aerodynamics of the A380 airplane instead of physical testing. Carmakers have also used HPC simulations to cut the development of new vehicle platforms from an average 60 months to just 24.

The objective of EuroHPC is to have at least two pre-exascale computers available by 2020 and reach full exascale performance by 2023.

Once deployed, the EuroHPC supercomputers will be available across the EU for scientific communities as well as public and private partners, no matter where supercomputers are located, the ministers said in the joint declaration.

The European Commission laid out an EU strategy for High Performance Computing (HPC) in a communication adopted on 15 February 2012. The communication is based on three pillars:

  • Developing the next generation of HPC technologies, applications and systems towards exascale (or a billion billion calculations per second);
  • Providing access to the best supercomputing facilities and services for the industry (including SMEs) and academia (PRACE);
  • Achieving excellence in HPC application delivery and use through establishment of Centres of Excellence in HPC applications.

A contractual public-private partnership on high performance computing (cPPP on HPC) entered into force in January 2014 to develop a research and innovation strategy, and develop the next generation of HPC technologies, applications and systems towards exascale.

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