MareNostrum 4 supercomputer now runs at 11 petaflops but there's more to come

The ambitions of Barcelona's Supercomputing Center stretch well beyond the newly-operational MareNostrum 4.
Written by Anna Solana, Contributor

Upcoming additions to MareNostrum 4 will bring its total speed up to 13.7 petaflops.

Image: Lucia Meler/BSC

Barcelona's Supercomputing Center is aiming to lead the move in Europe from petascale to exascale computing -- one exaflops is 1,000 petaflops -- and the newly launched MareNostrum 4 is just part of that shift.

The €34m ($40m) MareNostrum 4, which recently began operations, is the third fastest supercomputer in Europe and occupies 13th place in the Top500 list of the world's high-performance computing systems.

It provides 11.1 petaflops for scientific research, 10 times more than MareNostrum 3, which was installed between 2012 and 2013. One petaflops is one thousand million million floating-point operations per second.

That performance means the new supercomputer will be able to deal more quickly with tasks relating to climate change, gravitational waves, fusion energy, AIDS vaccines, and new radiotherapy treatments to fight cancer.

On top of that power, the capacity of the general-purpose cluster is also due to be upgraded in the next few months with the addition of three new smaller-scale clusters. The general-purpose cluster is the largest and most powerful part of the supercomputer, consisting of 48 racks with 3,456 nodes and 155,000 processors.

The new clusters will be equipped with emerging technologies developed in the US and Japan, such as IBM Power9 and NVIDIA Volta Plus GPUs, Intel Knights Hill processors or 64-bit ARMv8 processors, used in powerful supercomputers such as American Summit, Sierra, Theta and Aurora, and Japanese Post-K.

Those additions will bring MareNostrum 4's total speed up to 13.7 petaflops. For comparison, the system occupying seventh place in the Top500, Japan's Joint Center for Advanced High Performance Computing Oakforest-PACS, offers 13.5 petaflops.

MareNostrum 4's storage capacity will also increase to 14 petabytes. However, despite those processing and storage additions, its energy consumption will only increase by 30 percent to 1.3MW per year.

"For our researchers in computer architecture, and in the programming and creation of tools for the analysis and efficiency of computers, this a treat," BSC director professor Mateo Valero tells ZDNet.

"It will allow us to experiment with cutting-edge technologies, analyze how the same applications behave in different hardware, and tackle the challenge of making them efficient in different architectures.

Valero said the upcoming changes will also enable BSC to test the suitability of these technological developments for future iterations of MareNostrum.

"It will also allow us to address one of our most ambitious projects: our participation in the creation of hardware and software technology with a European DNA," he says.

For the first time, the European Commission is supporting that goal. Last March, seven European countries including Spain signed a formal declaration to support Europe's leadership in high-performance computing, a project of the size of Airbus in the 1990s and of Galileo in the 2000s.

At the time of the declaration, Andrus Ansip, European Commission vice-president for the digital single market, said that if Europe stays dependent on others for this critical resource, then it risks getting technologically "locked, delayed, or deprived of strategic know-how".

'Technological sovereignty' is about being technologically independent, so that you have control of your research and development, which can be particularly important for national security.

BSC plans to capitalize on the achievements and knowledge of its researchers to create European processors for supercomputing, the automotive industry, and the Internet of Things.

Of course, the transition to exascale computing requires an implementation roadmap. According to Valero., BSC doesn't expect to have an exaflops machine in 2020, but Europe could and should have one in 2022 or 2023.

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