As part of the European PRACE partnership, GENCI has just acquired a bullx® supercomputer that will deliver a record 1.6 Petaflops of power. GENCI’s CEO Catherine Rivière, who also represents France in the PRACE council, explains more.
How did the European PRACE partnership come into existence?
Nowadays, as well as theory and experience, computer simulation is an essential pillar of scientific research, and one of the foundation stones for both innovation and economic competitiveness. It was only three years ago that 14 European nations came to the conclusion that each of them could not compete with the United States or Asian countries in this area. And by joining forces, they decided to develop shared computing infrastructures at a Europe-wide level.
That is how PRACE (the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe) was born, as an independent structure financed by the partner States and the European commission, with the mission to co-ordinate the implementation and operation of a European network of very high level computing centers. Four of the PRACE founding countries – France, Germany, Italy, and Spain – have a ‘host status’, which means that they will be hosting one of the research infrastructure’s supercomputers.
So Curie, the Petaflops-scale supercomputer that GENCI has just ordered from Bull, will be one of the partnership’s four key resources?
That’s right. GENCI’s role is to set the strategic direction and to make France’s most important investments in High-Performance Computing (HPC), as the custodian of France’s commitment to PRACE. We therefore invited tenders for the supply of this computer which is intended to be general-purposed in order to cover a large scale of applications. Bull responded to this requirement by proposing to supply a bullx machine featuring a modular and balanced architecture, and thanks to the quality of its technical and business service offering, the company won the contract.
The computer – named ‘Curie’ – is due to be installed at the TGCC (Très Grand Centre de Calcul), the very large-scale computing center that the CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives) has just finished building at Bruyères-le-Châtel, in France. Curie will be implemented in two phases: the first delivering some 105 Teraflops by the end of 2010, and the second in October 2011 to reach a peak performance of 1.6 Petaflops which would make it one of the three most powerful machines in the world if it were fully operational today. In total, Curie will feature more than 90,000 processing cores and will be connected to an I/O system which will enable it to store over 10 Petabytes of data, and achieve exchanges and flows at up to 250 GB/s.
What will this supercomputer be used for?
The general-purpose nature of Curie means it will be able to meet the needs of researchers in a wide variety of scientific disciplines: plasmas and high-energy physics, chemistry, nanotechnologies, energy, medicine and biology, environmental sciences, climatology… In the latter, for example, it could be used to refine climate change models by significantly increasing the number of parameters.
How will researchers access these computing resources?
As well as in France, PRACE has settled a central process to award computing hours. Twice a year, French and European researchers are called to apply for time on PRACE machines. Their proposals are selected on the basis on scientific excellence, through a “peer review” process. This kind of process will itself contribute the dynamism of European research. The first submission of requests to use Curie is included in the next PRACE regular call for proposals, starting in November, with resources allocated in May 2011.
With Curie and PRACE, are we seeing the emergence of true High-Performance Computing in Europe?
That is our aim. The way we have worked collectively to move from the initial evaluation to an operational infrastructure in the tight timescale of just three years that we set ourselves, bodes extremely well for what is to follow. With the support of the scientific community, of industrial players like Bull, and of the authorities at both the national and international levels, an entire ecosystem around scientific computing is rapidly being established in Europe which will enable our research laboratories, and eventually our businesses too, to rival those in other world powers. This is a vital capital investment for the future.
GENCI, Grand Equipement National de Calcul Intensif, is a legal entity taking the form of a société civile (civil company) under French law, owned 49% by the French State represented by the Ministry for Higher Education and Research, 20% by the CEA, 20% by the CNRS, 10% by the universities and 1% by INRIA, the French national institute for research in computer science and control.
GENCI has been created to ensure that France achieves the highest levels in intensive computing, both at an European and international level.
It associates the main HPC actors of academic French research and benefits from public authorities’ support. GENCI has the following missions since its beginning in 2007:
• To set in place and co-ordinate the major computer equipment for the French computer centers for civil research, by providing for their financing and assuming their ownership
• To promote the organization of European High-Performance Computing (HPC) and participate in its actions. As such, GENCI represents France in the European PRACE project
• To promote the use of computer simulation and HPC in fundamental and industrial research.