European researchers will get a persistent high-performance computing infrastructure, after a project to establish such a grid was inaugurated in Barcelona on Wednesday.
The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (Prace) will comprise a grid of up to six 'Tier 0' high-performance computing (HPC) systems, spread across various member states. The project is being funded by the European Commission and by countries that have agreed to implement the supercomputers.
Prace is aiming for a combined computing power in the multi-petaflop range in the next five years, and in the exaflop range by 2019. An exaflop is a thousand trillion calculations per second — roughly equivalent to the combined computing power if each person in the world was running 3,000 original IBM PCs.
"I warmly welcome the launch of the Prace supercomputer infrastructure as scientific computing is a key driver for the development of modern science and technology and for addressing the major challenges of our time like climate change, energy saving and the ageing population," Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a Wednesday statement.
According to the Commission, Prace will help researchers do things such as investigate photosynthesis at a sub-atomic level, which could speed up the development of more efficient solar cells. "Scientists can also investigate 3D protein folding, which helps them understand how drugs interact with cells in the human body," the Commission said in a separate statement. "Knowledge of the process of blood flow in cardiac disease could be increased, which will allow doctors to predict heart attacks and take timely actions to save lives."
The Commission is providing up to €70m (£58m) in funding for Prace. Germany, France, Italy and Spain have also pledged a €100m each to build the HPC systems in their countries.
Germany has already installed the first production system to be used in Prace, the one-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/P (Jugene), at Forschungszentrum Jülich. A call for proposals for access to Jugene, which is itself Europe's most powerful computer and the fifth most powerful computer in the world, was put out in early May.
"Science and industry needs computing power and knowledge on the highest level," Forschungszentrum Jülich chairman Professor Achim Bachem said in the Prace statement. "The collective European effort provided by Prace will help European researchers to reach out to unique scientific insights and innovative products."
Prace will also offer users expert support in "porting, scaling and optimising applications to novel, highly parallel computer architectures", the statement read. A scientific steering committee will advise Prace, and access to the resourced will be granted through a "bespoke peer review process".
The project was inaugurated by the Commission's deputy director general, Zoran Stančič, and representatives of the 19 countries taking part: Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK. According to the statement on Wednesday, Norway will join Prace by the end of June.