High-Performance Computing (HPC) is a branch of computing that deals with scientific and engineering modelling, and simulation tasks, so demanding that calculations cannot be performed using general-purpose computers. The machines used in HPC are often referred to as supercomputers.
The next supercomputing frontier is exascale performance (i.e. at least 1018 or 1 billion billion calculations per second), which is expected to be reached around 2021-2022.
What have the EU and Member States done so far?
Member States have supported HPC with national or regional research and innovation policies, and with national public procurement of HPC systems. They have also successfully coordinated access to national supercomputing and data management resources and services at European level. This has enabled high-impact scientific discovery and engineering research and development, with the EU-supported PRACE initiative (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe), and GEANT programme (providing high speed communication for the pan-European data network for the research and education community). In 2013, the Commission signed a contractual public-private partnership with the industry association ETP4HPC, with the objective of working together under Horizon 2020 on a European Research and Innovation roadmap to develop the next generation of HPC technologies.
In March 2017 the European Commission launched the EuroHPC declaration – an agreement in which the signatory countries commit to work together with each other and with the European Commission to acquire, build and deploy an integrated world-class High Performance Computing infrastructure that would rank among the world's top three. By now 22 European countries have signed the declaration.
As the next step, the Commission proposed in January 2018 to invest jointly with Member States €1 billion in world-class European supercomputers through a new legal and funding structure – the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking. The Council has endorsed the Commission's proposal and the Joint Undertaking will begin its work in the coming weeks. So far 25 European countries have confirmed their commitment to the ambitious project.
Supercomputing is additionally one of the five key digital topics where the EU's investment should significantly increase: under the next long-term EU budget for 2021-2027 the Commission proposes under Digital Europe programme to invest €2.7 billion in projects to build-up and strengthen supercomputing and data processing in Europe.
Why is there a need for a EuroHPC Joint Undertaking now?
Despite efforts and investments made so far at national and European level, the world's best-performing supercomputers are not located in Europe, and those existing in Europe depend on non-European technology. The European HPC technology supply chain is still weak and the integration of European technologies into operational HPC machines remains insignificant.
As scientific and industrial challenges grow in scale and complexity, HPC users are seeking greater computational power. If more computation time does not become available, European scientists and industry will increasingly process their data outside the EU, seriously undermining the growth prospects of Europe's digital economy, estimated at 4% of the EU's GDP.
An ambitious legal and funding framework at European level is needed to support the deployment of operational HPC solutions based on technologies developed in Europe with demand-side instruments such as public procurement. Other available funding instruments have limitations for a large-scale cooperation involving EU and national funding and this is why EuroHPC Joint Undertaking was created.
What will the Joint Undertaking do?
A Joint Undertaking is a legal instrument that allows the EU, Member States and associated countries and private partners to efficiently combine joint procurement and ownership of supercomputers, as well as make joint investments in the development of leading technology, software and applications in Europe. The Joint Undertaking will focus on the following three areas:
procuring and deploying in Europe a world-class HPC infrastructure, and making this available to public and private users;
supporting the timely development of the next generation of European HPC technologies and their integration into exascale systems in competitive timeframes with respect to global competitors;
European leadership in scientific and industrial applications.
The Joint Undertaking will support the acquisition and interconnection of world-class supercomputers, including two pre-exascale systems (capable of a hundred million billion or 1017 calculations per second) in the global top 5 and at least two petascale systems (capable of a million billion or 1015 calculations per second) in the global top 25. Working in close collaboration with PRACE and GEANT, the Joint Undertaking will provide access to this new European supercomputing infrastructure to users from academia, industry and small and medium-sized enterprises, and the public sector, no matter where they are located in the EU.
The Joint Undertaking will support the European Processor Initiative to develop, using European technologies, the low-power microprocessors needed to power supercomputers. This will make Europe less reliant on foreign technology in a field that is essential for many areas of the digital economy in high-performance computing and beyond, such as connected and autonomous vehicles, and big data servers.
The Joint Undertaking will also support the development of world-class scientific, public sector and industrial applications, in particular through Centres of Excellence in HPC applications, in many domains, including personalized medicine, bio-engineering, weather forecasting and climate change, discovering new materials and medicines, oil and gas exploration, designing new planes and cars, and smart cities.
In addition, the Joint Undertaking will support the creation and coordination of national HPC Competence Centres across the EU. The centres will engage in training and outreach activities for academic and industrial public sector users to perfect existing or acquire new digital skills. The centres will also increase awareness of the next generation of digital technologies, and provide better access to HPC tools and services. Notably, the centres will target small and medium-sized enterprises, providing them access to new applications and services, and increasing their innovation capability.
Who will be the members of the Joint Undertaking?
The Joint Undertaking will be composed of:
Public members representing the Governing Board, with representatives from the Commission and 25 participating countries.
Private members representing the Industrial and Scientific Advisory Board, with representatives from the two participating private partners, the European Technology Platform for High Performance Computing (ETP4HPC) and the Big Data Value (BDVA) associations, and other stakeholders (users, supercomputing centres, and research organisations).
What will be the budget of the Joint Undertaking?
The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking will be jointly funded by its public members with a budget of around EUR 1 billion. The EU's financial contribution is EUR 486 million, which will be matched by a similar amount from participating countries. The private members will also provide additional contributions in the form of resources to the value of over EUR 400 million through participation in the Joint Undertaking's activities.
What are the next steps?
Located in Luxembourg, the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking will be established in October 2018 and remain operational until the end of 2026. By the end of 2018 or early 2019, its Governing Board, in cooperation with the Industrial and Scientific Advisory Board, will define its Work Programme for 2019-2020.
This Work Programme will be published in early 2019 and will be the basis for launching calls for proposals for research and innovation actions, in line with the strategic objectives defined in the Regulation establishing the Joint Undertaking.
In early 2019 the Joint Undertaking will also launch calls for expressions of interest for the national entities that will host the supercomputers procured by the Joint Undertaking. At least two pre-exascale and at least two petascale systems will be procured in the next two years. First contracts will be signed in the third quarter of 2019.
What are the plans in the next EU budget?
The Commission is proposing to continue the Joint Undertaking under the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-2027, as part of the Digital Europe programme, which includes a proposed additional EUR 2.7 billion of funding for the supercomputing area. The Horizon Europe framework programme also includes support for the research and innovation activities of the Joint Undertaking.
With these additional resources, the Joint Undertaking aims by 2023 to deploy at least one exascale system based on European technology and support the deployment of operational systems through the public procurement of exascale systems and post-exascale systems, also integrating solutions from other initiatives like the FET Flagship on Quantum Technologies.
Which challenges can HPC address?
Thanks to its inter-disciplinary nature and ability to process large amounts of data and carry out complex computations, HPC is essential for addressing many challenges.
Earth science and climate:
HPC underpins climate science by allowing more accurate weather forecasting, predicting large-scale natural disasters, and studying the behaviour of oceans. Severe weather cost 149,959 lives and EUR 270 billion in economic damage in Europe between 1970 and 2012.
HPC technologies allow ever higher-resolution simulations of climate change and more precise monitoring of earth resource evolution. HPC also improves our knowledge of geophysical processes and of the structure of the earth's interior.
Secure, clean and efficient energy:
HPC is critical for designing renewable energy parks and high performance photovoltaic materials, testing new materials for solar panels, and optimising turbines for electricity production.
Health, demographic change and wellbeing:
HPC is a driving force in developing new forms of medicine. Personalised and precision medicine relies on HPC to process information about a person's genes, proteins, and environment to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.
In biomolecular research, HPC is used to investigate the dynamics of biomolecules and proteins in human cells, which is crucial for treating autoimmune diseases and also cancer and diabetes. In brain research, HPC is used for multi-scale and high-resolution simulation and modelling of the human brain.
The testing of drug candidate molecules can be greatly accelerated by using HPC. HPC also helps to reposition existing drugs for new diseases.
Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine research and the bio-economy:
HPC is crucial to developing more sustainable agriculture by optimising food production, analysing sustainability factors, and monitoring plagues, disease control and pesticides. HPC technologies can also help to manage water and agricultural resources more efficiently and assist vulnerable communities through improved drought management.
Cybersecurity and defence:
HPC is also essential for national security and defence, for example in developing complex encryption technologies, tracking and responding to cyberattacks, deploying efficient forensics, and in nuclear simulations.
Smart, green and integrated urban planning:
HPC technologies support the development of smarter cities, thanks to the more efficient control of large transport infrastructure requiring real time analysis of huge amounts of data.
The development of autonomous vehicles will rely on HPC, as they will constantly exchange data with management and supervising systems and synchronise with large databases constantly feeding them with real-time information.
Why is supercomputing relevant to the Digital Single Market?
HPC has huge potential for creating jobs as part of the Digital Single Market. The Joint Undertaking will provide European industry, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, with better access to supercomputers to develop innovative products.
By handling and processing huge amounts of data in real time, HPC is fundamental to building a vibrant data economy, and an integrated exascale computing and big data ecosystem will enable the EU to make the most of it, while ensuring a high level of data protection and security. The EuroHPC infrastructure will permit sensitive data to be processed in Europe, while keeping privacy, ownership and access and use rights in Europe.
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*Updated - first published on 11 January 2018