New EU regulation on high performance computers expected in the coming days

Currently, the fastest supercomputers are not located in Europe, but in the USA, China or - like this one - in Japan. [EPA-EFE | Dai Kurokawa]

The European Commission wants supercomputers on European soil, saying it is essential for technological sovereignty. The executive was supposed to announce its new regulation on High-Performance Computers (HPC) on Tuesday (15 September), but there is a delay of several days. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Little is known about the substance of the regulation, but the EU will most likely tighten up its funding plans, Thomas Lippert, head of the Supercomputing Centre at Jülich Research Centre, told EURACTIV Germany.

This funding has a strategic goal. There should be high-performance computers that can compete with top machines from the USA, Japan or China on European soil. For the Commission, this is a question of technological sovereignty.

HPCs are mainly needed for the simulation of highly complex processes.

The automotive industry uses them to simulate car accidents, in which the effects on the vehicle and its occupants can be calculated. Researchers use them to project global warming or to simulate experiments with photovoltaic systems, and for the military, HPCs can now simulate atomic bomb tests.

Currently, Europeans mostly use computers from the USA, Japan or China for this purpose. The Commission wants to change this.

The vehicle is the “EuroHPC” project, a cooperation of the EU states excluding Malta plus five other non-EU states that cooperate with Brussels within the framework of Horizon 2020.

With a budget of €1 billion (half from the Commission, half from member states), EuroHPC is to buy new high-performance computers and install them in Europe. By 2021, two of the five fastest machines in the world will be in Europe.

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New regulation: Another “business plan”?

“Previous regulations on EuroHPC were basically business plans,” said Lippert. “This one will be similar, defining in more detail what can and cannot be funded,” he said.

In fact, there was a backlog of work to be done, because the Commission was not yet ready to take risks.

Those who apply for research funding must also provide economic relevance, said Lippert. “Of course, you have to be careful not to promote nonsense,” but at the same time give more creative leeway, the expert said.

Michael Resch, who heads the High-Performance Computing Centre (HLRS) in Stuttgart,  suspects that the reason for the postponement of regulation could be the cuts in research funds in the EU’s new seven-year budget, which the EU Council decided on in July. The HLRSworks closely with Brussels within the framework of EuroHPC.

The cutbacks would have upset the EuroHPC plan, “since then, there have been debates in national HPC centres as to whether the funds should still be used,” said Resch.

“Must catch up on 100 years of research”

Germany is likely to play “a major role” within EuroHPC, said Resch. After all, this country has the most high-performance data centres in the EU, so “quantitatively alone it has a leading role.” Accordingly, the country is “leading” in the coordination of EuroHPC research projects.

Germany is also a pioneer in the industrial use of public computer resources. For example, the HLRS sells the computing power of its HPCs to companies that need to create simulations once to fulfil orders.

However, Resch sees a particular need for computing power in research. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how important complex simulations are: “The ability to simulate the virus helps us enormously.”

The same applies to the energy turnaround. In the use of wind power, “100 years of research must be made up for, and as quickly as possible,” said Resch. Supercomputers can simulate the experiments required for this, which accelerates research immensely.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Samuel Stolton]

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