European Commission unveils €1bn supercomputing programme

Written by Sam Trendall on 15 January 2018 in News

The European Commission and EU member states will buy four ultra-powerful supercomputers

Hazel Hen supercomputer at Stuttgart University - Image credit: Christoph Schmidt/DPA/PA Images

The European Union and its member states are to invest €1bn in four supercomputers for use by public and private-sector entities across the EU.

The European Commission will invest €486m in the newly created EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, a programme dedicated to providing Europe with “a world-class high-performance computing (HPC) infrastructure”.

This funding is expected to be matched by contributions from individual member states and other “associated countries”.

In addition to acquiring two “world-class” and two “mid-range” supercomputers, the programme will also work on research and development initiatives focused on both HPC hardware and the software applications designed to run in conjunction with it.

The two more powerful machines will fall in the category of “pre-exascale” computing.

This term is applied to machines capable of processing 100,000,000,000,000,000 – one hundred thousand trillion, or 1017 – calculations per second. 

The mid-range supercomputers, which will be in the class of machines that are able to process 1016 calculations per second, will begin operation in 2020, and will be made available for use “by a wide range of public and private users”.

Supercomputers are huge, exceptionally powerful mainframe machines, capable of running tens of thousands of times more quickly than an average PC.

The world’s most powerful supercomputer, which can process 93,000 trillion calculations per second, is called Sunway TaihuLight and is owned by the Chinese National Supercomputing Centre in Wuxi.

The most powerful supercomputer in Europe is based at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, a Piz Daint machine built by US-based HPC specialist Cray.

The most powerful supercomputer in the UK – which is another Cray machine – is owned by the Met Office. 

The creation of an exascale computer that can handle a quintillion calculations per second – otherwise expressed as a billion billion, or 1018 – is a long-held goal of the technology industry.

The National Supercomputing Centre in China claims it is on course to have an exascale machine up and running by 2020 at the latest, and potentially as early as this year.

The EC believes that its funding will help support “the development of exascale-performance systems based on EU technology by 2022-2023”.

Alongside the acquisition and maintenance of the four supercomputers, the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking scheme will run a research programme dedicated to increasing skills and awareness around high-performance computing, as well as investing in programmes to build an exascale machine in Europe and the creation of new HPC-specialised software applications.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said: "Supercomputers are already at the core of major advancements and innovations in many areas directly affecting the daily lives of European citizens.

“They can help us to develop personalised medicine, save energy and fight against climate change more efficiently.

“A better European supercomputing infrastructure holds great potential for job creation and is a key factor for the digitisation of industry and increasing the competitiveness of the European economy."

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