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Cenaero, at the heart of innovation in Belgium with mobull

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Pierre Picard

To tackle its exponentially growing requirements for processing power, Cenaero has opted for mobull™, Bull’s ultra high-density data center in a container. At its heart is a bullx™ supercomputer delivering 40 Teraflops of power, forms the basis for a major expansion which will make Cenaero the leading research center in terms of processing power in the French-speaking region of Belgium.

The Cenaero research center specializes in the development of computer simulation methods and tools. Working with a wide range of industry sectors, its mission is to enable the design and development of high-performance products. “We carry out simulations for aerospace, construction (most notably to assess how buildings behave in terms of the energy they use), wind power, bio-medical and radiotherapy applications… Our strategy is to invest regularly in High-Performance Computing (HPC) resources, because our clients and partners – especially aircraft engine manufacturers – constantly need more powerful computer simulation solutions to stay at the leading edge of innovation,” says Serge Bogaerts, , HPC & Infrastructure Manager at Cenaero.

Very soon after it was set up in 2002, Cenaero equipped itself with a supercomputer whose processing power has been regularly upgraded. This has led to the Gosselies research center (based in Charleroi, just outside Brussels) to feature repeatedly in the world ranking of the TOP 500 supercomputers and as a result it has become one of Belgium’s major players in HPC.  

In 2011, Cenaero took delivery of an ultra high-density mobull container. The 14 meter long container can hold up to 15 server cabinets. Today, it plays host to Cenaero’s bullx supercomputer, which features almost 3,300 Intel® Xeon® processing cores, offering computing capacity of some 40 Teraflops.

 “All our acquisitions are put out to public tender, which enables us to ensure we are getting the best technologies under the best possible conditions. The contract for our new supercomputer is worth almost €2 million and has been co-financed by the European FEDER fund and the Walloon regional government. Bull’s subsidiary, Serviware, won the tender to provide both the container and the supercomputer. Serviware undeniably understands our business activities and the challenges we face. Their experts offered us a made-to-measure solution. We have been operating at full capacity for over six months now, which has enabled us to fully appreciate the performance and reliability of the solution that has been provided. With Serviware having taken responsibility or the infrastructure aspects of this project (mobull and air-conditioning) as well as the integration of the supercomputer itself, we have been able to see for ourselves the expertise, commitment and responsiveness of their teams across this entire, integrated scope,” Serge Bogaert continues.

Flexibility and energy efficiency

Cenaero group together the mobile infrastructure and the new supercomputer, to simplify the process and synchronize deliveries. With two essential requirements when it came to the mobile infrastructure: the need for a made-to-measure solution with the capacity for significant expansion (up to five times greater than the base system), in an unusual situation given that Cenaero does not actually own the buildings in which its data center is housed.

“We chose the mobull container because it had three big advantages over its rivals. First and foremost its energy consumption: mobull has been specifically designed for maximum energy efficiency and exceptional density of processing power – much greater than a traditional data center. What’s more, its cooling system operates as close as possible to the actual sources of heat. For an equivalent processing power, it consumes many fewer watts per Flop. This energy efficiency has allowed us to increase our processing power even though our energy consumption has remained the same,” stresses Serge Bogaerts.

The other big advantage of this ‘plug and play’ solution is its simplicity and efficiency in terms of up-front investment. With mobull, there is no need to physically extend the data center despite the scope of the potential increase in processing capacity required in the specification. “This solution gets round the constraints of finding more floor space on which to build a new data center and frees us up from the need for all the building work that would entail. And if, one day, we need to move location then our investment in mobull would go with us.”

And, as Serge Bogaerts concludes: “The investment we made in 2011 – which only used around a third of mobull’s capacity – has already been extended towards the end of 2012 to accommodate the future Tier1 computer for the French Community of Belgium (Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles), taking its hosting capacity to almost 500 kW. This reaffirms the fact that we have chosen the solution that best meets our constantly evolving needs.  mobull’s great strength is the container’s outstanding modularity, which makes it easy to add more server cabinets to create a supercomputer consisting of over 10,000 cores.”

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