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RWTH Aachen University orders Bull supercomputer to support its scientific, industrial and environmental research

Posted on 22 March 2011 by Pierre Picard

The North Rhine-Westphalia Technical University (RWTH or Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule) in Aachen – one of the nine German ‘Universities of Excellence’with about 33 000 students – has chosen a bullx™ supercomputer. The new system, featuring over 28,000 processing cores, will deliver some 300 Teraflops of power and three Petabytes of disk storage, and will give the University a significant advantage when it comes to running computer simulations that reflect reality as closely as possible.

In addition, the University’s Center for Computing and Communication and Bull have signed a collaboration agreement aimed at optimizing applications that may be useful to industry in heterogeneous cluster environments and in the area of ‘Green IT’.

Nowadays, supercomputers are absolutely essential in numerous areas of research and innovation, including cutting the fuel consumption of modern cars and aircraft, creating new materials and a better understanding of climatic phenomena.

Researchers based in the Engineering and Life Sciences faculties at RWTH Aachen University need access to ultra high-performance computing systems: “The new Bull supercomputer is a vital asset for our scientists working in engineering, physical sciences, chemistry, biology, mathematics and computer science. It will contribute to major advances in the many disciplines where the University uses computer simulation, whether they involve understanding natural phenomena more accurately, discovering new raw materials or developing new technical processes,” explains Professor Christian Bischof, Director of the Center for Computing and Communication and holder of the Chair in Scientific Computing at RWTH Aachen University.

We chose Bull because we were looking for a High-Performance Computing (HPC) partner in whom we could have total confidence, and who understands how to meet our needs over the coming years – and because the overall architecture of the proposed system met the demands of our researchers and their disciplines perfectly,” added Prof. Bischof.

The Center for Computing and Communication at RWTH is the main supplier of computing to the whole University. HPC and Virtual Reality (VR) for visualizing and analyzing the results from computing are seen as strategic areas for the University. Both actively support the core competencies of engineers and scientists through simulation, which in many areas has become the third pillar of science alongside theory and experimentation.

As Prof. Bischof explains: “One part of the RWTH Aachen University’s new supercomputer will be available exclusively to scientists in the Jülich Aachen Research Alliance (JARA), which will therefore form the cornerstone of the ‘JARA-HPC Partition’. As a result, in future JARA researchers will have access to a high-performance computing platform which – along with JARA’s HPC skills – an HPC ecosystem designed supports scientific simulation.”

System performance: by way of comparison…

  • The overall power of the system – at 300 Teraflops – is virtually the same as 10,000 of the latest desktop PCs.
  • Light travels at 30 centimeters a nanosecond. In the same timespan, the RWTH supercomputer will complete 300,000 operations.
  • The system can write up to 19 GB of data a second to the attached storage system: filling the equivalent of four DVDs.
  • The disk storage system has a total capacity of three Petabytes. It would take an MP3 player 6,000 years of continuous operation to play the equivalent amount of data.
  • Its processing power would rank the new computer as one of the 30 most powerful supercomputers in the world, compared with the most recently published TOP500 listing.

Crucial areas of application

Over a thousand scientists – as well as hundreds of students ­– already actively use the computing resources provided by the Center for Computing and Communication. Which means a very large number of applications are being used and developed at RWTH, both in Windows and Linux environments. The five-fold boost in available computing power will open up exciting new possibilities for these engineers and scientists.

All the key disciplines at the University make use of HPC to explore the universe both at an the infinitely small level – in nanotechnology, bionics, elementary particles in physics and chemistry… – and an infinitely grand scale in climate science, energy management and processing techniques.

For example, building reliable pipelines requires detailed knowledge of the behaviour of metallic raw materials at the level of their microstructure during the casting, rolling, solidification and welding. RWTH Aachen University is also interested in the future of information and communications techniques, mobility and transport.

The growing complexity of the scientific and technical problems being posed today and in the future will require increasing co-operation between specialists from various different disciplines. Engineers may be working closely with mathematicians and IT experts to help them solve their issues. So RWTH Aachen University is actively strengthening its interdisciplinary teaching and research. For example, in 2002 it established an interdisciplinary course on ‘Computational Engineering Science’.

We are delighted that the contract for this supercomputer marks the starting point of a long-term co-operation, which goes well beyond the performance of the system itself,” comments Michael Gerhards, CEO of Bull Germany. “As a result, RWTH Aachen University, Bull and our associated partners will be making a decisive contribution to the North Rhine-Westphalia scientific cluster, as well as to environmental protection.”

As part of this co-operation, the University’s Center for Computing and Communication and Bull will be working together to optimize standard HPC applications, such as OpenFOAM, for hybrid cluster architectures, to make optimum use of the advantages of these kinds of architectures. In this type of architecture, numerous multi-processor systems with large memory capacity are brought together using a high-performance network. This architecture makes the most of the benefits offered by both Message Passing Interface (MPI) standards and the significant memory available through OpenMP: an application programming interface that scientists from the Aachen Center for Computing have successfully been using over a long period.

Industry users will also benefit from the new supercomputer. “Nowadays, computer simulation plays a key role in development and production, in almost all sectors of industry,” says Joachim Redmer, Director of Bull Germany’s HPC activities. “It’s something we are clearly seeing in our discussions with our industrial customers. RWTH Aachen University is especially well known for its engineering curriculum. With the new Bull supercomputer, and as part of our co-operation, we will ensure that industry benefits from all the scientific performance we can achieve as rapidly as possible, so as to strengthen the competitiveness of our businesses and reinvigorate science.”

As part of a subsequent joint research project, the RWTH Center for Computing and Bull will be working on optimizing the efficiency of supercomputer processing, to ensure that each operation uses less energy. The electricity consumption of a major system like this is typically almost a megawatt (equivalent to 200 households), so this is an especially crucial issue, especially when it comes to environmental protection. “Our aim is to significantly reduce the electricity consumption, using software developed as part of our collaboration, with no perceptible impact on performance,” explains Klaus Brühl, Deputy Director of the Center for Computing and Communication at RWTH Aachen University. “This advance in support of ‘Green IT’ will also have a positive effect on operating costs.

The new supercomputer is due to be delivered from March 2011 onwards and to go into service during May 2011.



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