GENCI’s CURIE supercomputer – designed by Bull – opens up unprecedented new possibilities for academic and industrial research in Europe.
The equivalent of reading two billion books in just one second: that’s the level of performance which the CURIE supercomputer – designed by Bull for GENCI (the French National High-Performance Computing Organization) and now being made available research purposes – is capable of.
Over the past two decades, supercomputers have become essential tools for researchers, helping them to model and simulate complex phenomena, in ever more detail, in a way that traditional experimentation could never achieve. The greater the performance and capacity of supercomputers, the more precise and realistic the computer models and simulations become.
CURIE – which is capable of up to two million billion operations a second (or 2 Petaflops) – consists of more than 92,000 processing cores, linked to a system that can store the equivalent of 7,600 years’ worth of MP3 files (15 Petabytes) at a speed of 250Gbit/s, 100,000 times faster than an ultra-high-speed ADSL connection.
“With its balanced architecture – which is unique in Europe – combining high levels of processing power and the capacity to process huge amounts of data, CURIE will give French and European researchers the means to tackle the biggest scientific challenges in fields such as climatology, life sciences and astrophysics,” stresses Catherine Rivière, CEO of GENCI, the public agency charged with coordinating France’s policies in intensive computing.
Picture of the CURIE supercomputer, installed and operated by CEA at its Très Grand Centre de Calcul (TGCC) in Bruyères-le-Châtel, near Paris
Increasing European competitiveness
“The design of CURIE reaffirms the excellence of Bull’s engineers in their understanding of Extreme Computing technologies,” adds Philippe Vannier, CEO of Bull. “This is part of a virtuous circle where European experts from all different fields – from the engineers who design supercomputers to the researchers who use them – join forces to create the most advanced solutions in this area. What’s at stake is European innovation and technological competitiveness, which will be our very best assets when it comes to beating the global competition and encouraging the creation of high-level employment on our continent.”
“The expertise of Bull’s teams, combined with the essential support of the CEA – which is hosting and running CURIE at its TGCC data center in Bruyères-le-Châtel – enabled us to bring the roadmap that we had created four years ago to a successful conclusion, within the allotted timescale,” continues Catherine Rivière. GENCI’s €100 million investment over five years has effectively enabled France to meet its commitments to contribute to Europe’s research infrastructure, under the terms of PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe) initiative of which it was a founder member. PRACE, which now covers 24 countries, is aimed at gradually implementing a distributed, pan-European infrastructure of four data centers, each equipped with supercomputers delivering at least 1 Petaflops of power, including CURIE at the TGCC.
Very large-scale simulations
The supercomputer – which was implemented in two stages between late 2010 and the end of 2011 – is now completely installed and its final configuration has been tested, before it is made fully available to scientific community from 1 March 2012. In this final testing phase, the supercomputer’s effective operation has been verified by running a number of very large-scale simulations using virtually all of its components. This so-called ‘Grand Challenges’ phase is also enabling researchers to achieve major scientific advances more generally.
For example, this was the case with the work carried out in December 2011 by the team led by Michel Caffarel from the quantum chemistry and physics laboratory at CNRS/Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse. In order to gain a better understanding of the chemical phenomena at work in the process of neuro-degeneration – particularly in Alzheimer’s Disease, which currently affects over 20 million people worldwide – researchers were looking to model the behaviour of metallic ions that are particularly involved in these processes.
The simulations carried out using virtually all CURIE’s processing cores with the QMC=Chem code proved to be highly more accurate that those obtained so far using classical methods.
Michel Caffarel welcomes this development: “Thanks to CURIE’s processing power, the precision needed for explorations at the level of the fundamental chemical processes at work in the complex molecular systems of living organisms is now accessible. Exploring this aspect means we can understand the mechanisms involved in determining the important factors, and eventually suggest new options for treatment.”
Other ‘Grand Challenges’ are being planned for CURIE. In astrophysics, for example, a team from the Paris Observatory is currently involved in a world first: understanding the evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang to the present day, under the influence of dark matter. This simulation will be ten times more realistic than those currently being carried out in the USA and South Korea. Other research teams have high hopes of CURIE, including those from the CEA working on nuclear fusion, with the aim of scoping the future prototype of ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). Researchers at CORIA and CERFACS are planning to use the system to optimize the combustion processes in turbines and piston engines. And teams from the Pierre Simon Laplace Institute (IPSL) will be creating multi-level climate models, to study cyclones in the Indian Ocean.
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 a 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.
For more information, visit: www.genci.fr