Digitising Europe with sheer computing power

Source: A. (Andrus) AnsipĀ i, published on Wednesday, March 15 2017.

Why do we need supercomputers? Most people may never see or use one themselves. But they already feel the benefit.

Supercomputers are used to solve complex problems and carry out data-intensive tasks; for modelling, simulation, advanced data analytics, visualisation - among many other things.

There are countless applications for high-performance computing, or HPC.

It could be designing and simulating new medical treatments and their effects; oil and gas exploration; seismic simulation or improved climate modelling; designing energy-efficient buildings.

Or testing car crashes without having to crash a car.

With aircraft, for example, HPC plays a key role in reducing environmental impact.

The design of the Airbus A380 used HPC and aerodynamics simulation to carry twice as many passengers for the same noise level, using less than 3 litres of fuel per person per 100 kilometres and less than 75g of CO2 per person per kilometre.

These are all important and useful tasks that directly benefit people, business and industry, and wider society. But they would take days, if not weeks, for a single PC to calculate.

With many thousands of processors working in parallel, a supercomputer does the job far more quickly.

Here is a quick online poll on supercomputers - which application is the most important?

Scientists, researchers and engineers are among the major users of HPC today. Now, companies across many industry sectors are also coming to rely on supercomputer power to innovate, cut costs and reduce the time to get their products and services to market.

For industry, HPC is a vital tool to increase competitiveness.

It should be seen as a strategic resource for the future of EU industry as it goes more digital.

Many small and medium-sized companies need modelling and simulation for their business.

For many of them - if not all - the cost of owning and maintaining a HPC system to perform advanced simulations is prohibitively high.

They could really benefit from access to HPC resources.

At the same, HPC itself is developing to cope with the constant increase in data volumes and flows.

Dozens of billions of connected devices linked together in the Internet of Things. Surging numbers in smartphone ownership and of people using social networks.

In terms of global internet traffic, we are already in the zettabyte era. Cisco projects that annual global IP traffic will reach 2.3 zettabytes by 2020 - just over 500 billion DVDs a year.

As a reaction to the exponential growth in data, HPC is moving towards its next frontier - from petascale to exascale; at least 10 times faster than the fastest machines currently in operation and more than 100 times faster than the fastest machines available in Europe.

But not all EU countries have the capacity to build and maintain such infrastructure, or to develop exascale technologies. Even the largest countries will find this difficult.

This is where the European Union has to work together, with a strong commitment to building advanced high-capacity data and computing infrastructure.

Next week, in Rome, we look forward to securing that commitment to step up Europe's HPC capabilities.

At a Digital Day that will be part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome, EU governments will be invited to sign a declaration of European cooperation on HPC.

This will mean national governments working and interacting with each other to establish integrated world-class exascale HPC infrastructure across the EU, to be available for scientific communities, industry and the public sector - wherever the users are located.

Back in February 2012, the European Commission published a HPC strategy with the title: "Europe's place in a global race".

Five years later, it is a race where Europe is still lagging behind.

Other countries are moving fast, funding programmes to develop national HPC ecosystems and working to get their own exascale supercomputers up and running. By comparison, Europe is doing less.

At the moment, EU industry provides about 5% of HPC resources worldwide, but consumes about 30%. If we stay dependent on others for this critical technology, then we risk getting technologically 'locked', delayed or deprived of strategic know-how.

Europe needs integrated world-class HPC capability - our own - and we need to do more to make it happen.

The Rome HPC Declaration will be a welcome step in that direction.

Another blog soon.